Beyond the sets of exercises

4th October 1996 at 01:00
KEY MATHS (YEAR 8) PUPIL'S BOOKS 1-3 Pounds 8.99 each TEACHERS' FILES 1-3 Pounds 45 each QUESTION BANK Pounds 55 Stanley Thornes

NUFFIELD NATIONAL CURRICULUM MATHEMATICS (LEVELS 7 AND 8) Number and Algebra 4 Pupil's book Pounds 6.99 Resource pack Pounds 21.50 (inc pupil's book) Shape, Space and Measures 4 Pupil's book Pounds 6.50 Handling Data 4 Pupil's book Pounds 6.50 Stage 5 Pupil's book Pounds 12.99 Heinemann.

Textbook schemes have strengths and weaknesses, but the major role remains with the teacher.

Broadly speaking, two types of resources vie for secondary maths departments' favours. First, there are the straightforward, conventional texts which are predominantly sets of exercises for pupils to work through. They focus on content, are relatively easily updated as curriculum changes occur, provide flexibility in use and are comparatively cheap to produce (though not always to purchase).

They usually have brief explanations of concepts and procedures and may or may not attempt to extend the mathematics to include the processes of attainment target 1, using and applying.

They do little to influence curriculum design, classroom organisation, teaching approaches and so on. For many, this is part of their appeal.

On the other hand, there are the all encompassing "complete" schemes, of which SMP 11-16 was by far the most popular, which go to great lengths to influence not only the content of the curriculum but also the way in which it is organised and taught. For many this is welcome support. For others it can be something of a straitjacket which inhibits rather than promotes their role as a teacher.

Development teams working now on such schemes have a lot of demands to accommodate. The materials need to be attractive, offer flexibility in use, stimulate work which is relevant, enjoyable and motivating and they need to be cost-effective. In addition, they need to support differentiation, integrate attainment target 1, encourage appropriate use of computers and calculators, support formative assessment and match national assessment requirements. And the structure and guidance on classroom methods must be clear and realistic while acknowledging teachers' professional independence. No small order. Yet many publishers have teams working on such projects.

The recent publication of elements from two such schemes allows a comparison of their approaches. Key Maths is a comprehensive scheme for key stage 3. The course guide clearly indicates that the design team have taken account of most of the complex demands identified above. The course is planned as a whole and defined largely by the content of the pupils' books. These are offered in parallel editions (2 in Year 7 and 3 in Years 8 and 9) providing some differentiation of material and target national curriculum level.

The extensive teachers' files are also presented in different editions to match the books. This appears extravagant since there is clearly a great deal of duplication between them and equipping each teacher with each file they may use could prove very expensive for some departments. The materials support different ways of working. For example, homework questions from the pupils' books are reproduced for photocopying in order that pupils need not take the textbooks home. Introductions to each section include an overview, a list of points to emphasise and notes for the non-specialist.

These are potentially valuable but most of the comments are rather mundane - helpful, but rarely inspiring. There is a good range of computer program references, suggestions for using graphical calculators and lists of equipment all of which go some way towards encouraging creativity both on the part of the teacher and the pupil.

A great deal of effort has been put into getting a flexible, supportive structure but I remain unenthusiastic about the pupils' texts. Although they are colourful, clear and well illustrated, the actual questions are predominantly short, closed and routine. There is relatively little to prompt discussion, problem solving or deeper thinking. Some teachers may find this reassuring and others will be able to supplement the material but other schemes promote a richer mathematical experience for pupils.

Nuffield National Curriculum Mathematics is different both in design and content. It is intended to provide material for both key stages 3 and 4. At each of the scheme's four stages there are three separate books covering attainment targets 2 to 4: number and algebra; shape, space and measures; and handling data. They are targeted at levels 4, 5, 6 and 7 respectively. A single, longer Stage 5 book covers material from level 8 and above across all attainment targets.

The design does not imply a scheme of work for a department. This would need to be constructed first and the material from the various components of the course mapped onto it. This is likely to involve a class needing access to several books at different times through a term. While some departments will welcome this flexibility, others will prefer a more tightly prescribed teaching programme.

Brief guidance to teachers is provided in an assessment and resource pack for each pupil text. This, again, is limited in scope and does not compare, for example, with the extensive teaching ideas which Nuffield once had in their primary scheme. The pack also includes answers, revision sheets, and a variety of assessment material.

Again, the pupils' texts are well presented. I like the introductions to topics which are more discursive than in many books, while remaining accessible to pupils. The exercises are mainly standard in format but there are more regular questions demanding reflection, justification and explanation.

There is an attempt to engage the pupils by linking questions to real situations. So, for example, pupils are instructed to find the exchange rate for the US dollar from Teletext or a newspaper rather than to work from an out of date rate. Not earth-shattering, but a flavour of the style. Overall, the pupils' books are a strength of the scheme.

Whatever resources a school uses, teachers still have a major role in planning the scheme of work, enhancing classroom activities and identifying individual needs. While each of these schemes helps in different ways and both have strengths which will appeal to different groups of teachers, a clear message is that neither of them can provide a complete solution.

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