The CAN-do mentality
Shirley Clarke reviews a fun-filled reception class scheme which is based on Calculator Aware Number research. For some time there has been a gap in the market for high-quality pre-national curriculum maths materials. Module 1 of New Cambridge Mathematics surpasses expectations of what might fill that gap. The scheme is manageable, fun and easy to follow. It is based on sound principles of mathematical learning, combining skills and application through real contexts, with a strong emphasis on discussion.
The Teacher's Resource Book is the central resource. Its philosophy draws on the CAN (Calculator Aware Number) research, in which young children using calculators and open-ended calculations and problems were shown to be more numerate than children using traditional methods.
The main section of the book consists of "Ongoing maths" and sets of activities. The "Ongoing maths" section lists pages of clearly presented mental activities for use with the whole class (for example, "Count these chime bar sounds to yourself, then tell me how many you heard"), five-minute activities such as singing games, and play activities such as sand and water exploration, use of polydron, various sorting ideas and maths with modelling dough (for example, "We need to make jam tarts; one for each teddy in the classroom").
The activities are organised in six half-term blocks, with each block offering all the maths coverage that a reception child needs. They are written for use with the whole class or groups and span the whole ability range, combining approaches of both differentiation by task and by outcome.
The activities are delightful and fun, taking contexts such as dragons, monsters, teddy bears, clowns, bugs and sweet shops, and use everyday resources, including toys, floor robots, number lines and calculators. They are generally based on discussion followed by some practical activity, then recording in the activity books, although sometimes the children record then come together for a whole class discussion (for example, "draw a teddy, giving it a name and an age" followed by discussion focusing on comparisons of the bears).
Children love this type of activity, which is so manageable it leaves room for the teacher to focus on what really matters; the discussion of the maths involved. Each small section of activities concludes with support and extension ideas, references to stories and teacher's maths books and a range of other ideas. The book has useful photocopiable masters at the back, such as a sheet of calculator light bars and practice numeral writing.
The activity books are very simple, with clear line drawings and very few words. Each page has a border pattern and each book has a game on the cover. What I really like about them is that the pages are integral to the activities, so children could not be subjected to simply ploughing through the pages.
Two routes are shown through the activities, either in maths sections (for example, counting and number bonds, pattern, calculators etc) or using the spiral approach in which every activity is listed in order, moving from one area of maths to another.
The games and mats pack is built into the scheme and continues the quality of the activities. Another teacher's book explains how to use the games and mats. The A4 game boards can be used for several different games and the pack contains bags, labels, dice, counters and plastic stencils.
The boards are humorously illustrated ("Dragon and Friends" consists of a number of baseboards with cards to match various dragons, teddies and monsters dressed in a variety of beach wear) and the games are extremely easy for children to understand, which is where many infant games fail. The mats are A3 laminated and can be used in several ways.
The resource book sets out, for each mat, how to use them for discussion, then how to set children off on practical work such as matching, sorting, counting and measuring and then how to get children to record, either on the mats, through pencil and paper, painting or model making.
There are ideas for problem solving, games to play round the mat borders and finally an assessment activity which nicely rounds off each section of activities.
The "sweet shop" mat, for example, is a picture of six jars of different sizes, each containing different sorts of sweets or different shapes and colours. The whole class first discusses the picture with the teacher. The border can then be used for matching and counting coins. Children can be asked to find how many ways to make 5p or 10p and can use a square grid mat physically to sort coins. A variety of ideas are outlined for addition, subtraction and simple multiplication and references are made to related story books and other curriculum ideas.
There are also "Homelink" books and pamphlets for parents outlining how and why the scheme works. Every reception class should have this module.
Shirley Clarke is Inset co-ordinator for assessment at the Institute of Education, University of London