Victoria Neumark talks to BEAM director Sheila Ebbutt about the growing impact of an award-winning publisher
Beam, whose Learning Mathematics in the Nursery has won the primary category of the TESEPC Schoolbook Award for mathematics, is very much in tune with the times.
Gone are the days of children individually ploughing through bewildering chunks of the syllabus on their own worksheets. In come irresistible activities with suggestions for questions to ask pupils, lists of aims and assessment points, ideas for staff meetings, background mathematical information to educate the teacher, games and exercises and practical help on resources, all beautifully laid out and presented.
Sheila Ebbutt, director of Beam (Be A Mathematician), says: "We've always been focused on the teacher as having a central role in the children's learning of mathematics. Now it seems that things have come round to our way of thinking."
Beam has produced lessons and a booklet on mathematical vocabulary for the National Numeracy Project. it runs in-service training and produces materials for teachers all over the country with a mailing list of more than 12,000. and from being a twinkle in the eye of the Inner London Education Authority maths advisers in 1987, BEAM has become a self-financing organisation employing 16 full and part-time staff and a network of 60 freelance consultants.
Sheila Ebbutt, who has presided over this rapid expansion since 1990 sees the whole phenomenon as self-generating. "We have Beam groups all over the country and individual teachers ring up all the time to say, 'We're not in Beam, what can we do to be part of it?' " Groups spring up all the time, as forums for discussion and ideas. From the discussions in groups spring more materials, which in turn are sent out to groups and individuals to be trialled in schools. A hundred teachers and advisers all over the country constantly develop Beam materials in their classrooms and feed back their results. A twice-yearly newsletter keeps these links fresh, while nearer home two regular focus groups in Islington and Tower Hamlets keep the roots of Beam's activities alive in the primary classroom.
Beam is also a strong user of educational research, developing some of its publications in conjunction with Mike Askew at King's College, London.
The future looks bright for Beam, as it develops its publications for the numeracy project in the light of research on how children learn and how best to teach them. Hot topics for the next few years promise to be mental strategies and how they fit in to teaching written methods of calculation and how to use different kinds of number lines in the classroom.
Beam has always been a keen advocate of whole-class discussion of mathematical processes and the use of correct vocabulary. Sheila Ebbutt says: "Our basic principles are that mathematics is interesting, challenging and enjoyable, that children learn best in a climate of enquiry and discussion, that assessment is an integral part of teaching and, above all, that good teaching is essential for successful learning in mathematics."