All in the mind

2nd June 1995 at 01:00
MENTAL MATHS. By Anita Straker Mental Maths 1. 0 521 48551 7 Mental Maths 2. - 0 521 48552 5. Mental Maths 3. - 0 521 48553 3. Mental Maths 4. - 0 521 48554. 1 Pounds 2.25 each

Teacher's book for ages 7 - 9. - 0 521 48509 6.

Teacher's book for ages 9 - 11. 0 521 48510 X.

Pounds 12.95 each Cambridge University Press.

Anne Woodman on the importance of mental mathematics.

The national curriculum has brought back into sharp focus the importance of mental mathematics. Mental facility with numbers is particularly important because the development of pencil and paper methods should follow the development of appropriate mental methods. Having a mental "toolkit" to handle numbers will also enable children to estimate, approximate, interpret answers and check for reasonableness as well as help them solve problems.

The resource pack, Mental Maths, consists of two teacher's books and four children's book and is intended "to help children think about numbers and carry out mental calculations".

The children's booklets are graded from Mental Maths 1, useful for most seven to eight-year-olds working at level 2 or 3, to Mental Maths 4 focusing on level 4 and parts of level 5 for the more able children in the 9 to 11 age-range. The author recommends that the children work through one or two of the 60 five to 10-minute exercises and problems in each book weekly throughout key stage 2.

One feature that particularly appeals to me is the small amount of reading, which makes access to the problem easier, especially for children who are less confident readers. I also like the variety of forms in which numbers appear, for example, they are revised through measures, algebra, shape and space and handling as well as through pure number work.

The balance between closed questions and problems requires children to draw on problem-solving strategies. Most of us associate closed questions such as "What is the value of the 7 in 72?" with traditional exercises, but there are also problems which make demands on children's reasoning.

Regular exposure to short, varied problems like these helps children to revise and retain skills and knowledge which they might otherwise forget.

There is also a useful table of contents at the front of each book.

The teacher's books contain "ideas for you to work on with groups of pupils or a whole class and photocopiable pages of puzzles and games for children to do by themselves". The first book includes work at levels 2 to 4, the second at levels 3 to 5.

The opening chapter is inspiring and essential reading if the most is to be made of the rest of the series. It considers issues such as classroom organisation, helping children to remember, and so on. It explains the philosophy underpinning the books and highlights elements for in-service work.

The collection of ideas for oral work is designed to be led by the teacher (or classroom helper), each with learning objectives, hints for organisation, key vocabulary, preparation and procedure. Many teachers will welcome help with the phrasing of open-ended questions which do not always come easily in the bustle of the classroom. The mixture of ideas suitable for whole class delivery and others for children at approximately the same level will also support different forms of classroom organisation.

I also like the section on puzzles for individual work in the form of 18 photocopiable sheets and 12 photocopiable games for two or more children. The puzzles and games alike will certainly make children think. Puzzles such as these used as "homework" would also send important messages to parents about numeracy. Finally, there is a good overall balance in the books between individual, paired, group and whole class work.

Each book concludes with notes on the puzzles and games. I would have liked more detailed guidance for less confident teachers, and answers to the children's books.

Anne Woodman is a primary mathematics consultant and series editor of STEPS Mathematics (Collins).

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