Count the puzzles

9th February 1996 at 00:00
Linton Waters reviews books and games to tease the mind. HOW MANY? By Charles Snape and Heather Scott. PUZZLES, MAZES AND NUMBERS. By Charles Snape and Heather Scott Cambridge University Press Pounds 5.50 each.

A MATHEMATICAL JAMBOREE By Brian Bolt Cambridge University Press Pounds 8.95.

EDWARD DE BONO'S MIND PACK By Edward de Bono Dorling Kindersley Pounds 14.99 (boxed book and games) Age range 10 plus

It's often difficult to find maths books which are worth putting into the school library. The sort which are mathematically worthwhile but also likely to appeal to a wide readership - or at least browsership. Many teachers want good books of this kind in their classroom so that when pupils show more than a flicker of interest and want to take things further, they have immediate access to stimulating and challenging ideas.

A new book from Charles Snape and Heather Scott meets these criteria. How Many? is a slim, attractive paperback designed for anyone from age 10 upwards. Like the authors' previous volumes How Amazing and How Puzzling, it comprises a series of self-contained double-page spreads on a wide range of mathematical topics, in this case all to do with numbers. The pages are busy but well illustrated and the format makes it a good book for dipping into. It offers brief introductions to topics with problems and puzzles to work on.

One of its strengths is the way it demonstrates the multi-cultural origins of modern mathematics. Of course the Greeks, Chinese and Ancient Egyptians appear, but so too do Hindu numerals (introduced to Western Europe by Fibonacci), the Japanese abacus, Arabian arithmetic and the Mayan number system. This is a valuable ideas book for teachers as well as a source of interest for younger mathematicians.

If you or your pupils have enjoyed any of Charles Snape and Heather Scott's books mentioned here then you may be tempted by Puzzles, Mazes and Numbers. Although in hardback and therefore a bit more expensive, it has exactly the same format as the earlier three. But beware. As far as I can see, it is simply the pages from How Many?, How Amazing and How Puzzling shuffled and bound together. I did not find anything new in it. Now there is nothing wrong with providing a compilation volume of previously published books - and this one deserves a place in any school library - but I do feel it's unfair of the publishers not to make it clear somewhere on the book that this is what they have done.

Another author who has, in the past, repackaged successful material is Brian Bolt. Many teachers find his collections of puzzles, problems and activities invaluable sources of ideas for maths lessons and they are accessible to many secondary age youngsters. His latest book A Mathematical Jamboree follows the familiar format of his many earlier volumes but it, we are assured in the introduction, is "filled with new ideas to challenge the puzzler". In fact much of it has appeared in his earlier books (also published by Cambridge) and, again, the problem is that purchasers or borrowers are not made aware of this. Some puzzles may be new (the lack of an index in Mathematical Activities, for instance, makes it difficult to check) and many are certainly worth revisiting. But, again, beware. If, like me, you collect and enjoy Brian Bolt's work, you may find the most significant conundrum in this one is "have I been conned?" Finally, we could regard Edward de Bono's Mind Pack as a repackaging of many of his familiar themes and ideas but here, as the name suggests, the package is the essence of the product. And being a Dorling Kindersley product, a very attractive, high quality package it is. In a colourful box we get a 72 page book, two sets of 60 cards ("Number Cards" and "Thinkards"), a game board, counters and other bits and pieces.

The delightfully illustrated book takes us through a 14-stage course in learning to think more creatively. Games, puzzles and explanations are intended to improve our understanding of a competence in all aspects of thinking. These include recognition, analysis, seeing possibilities, making judgments, comparison and problem solving. Although not geared specifically towards mathematics, clearly these are all important areas of Ma1, Using and Applying Mathematics, in the national curriculum.

Many of the games need more than one person to play and the pack should appeal to families. Although the whole thing is bright and eye-catching, the language and some of the games would not suit younger children. In schools, one would like to think that the whole curriculum is geared towards helping children broaden and sharpen their cognitive skills. In reality, though, one recognises that much of the curriculum may work against pupils' ability to think creatively.

Increasingly educators are recognising that thinking about learning and learning about thinking can help our intellectual capabilities and a few schools already run thinking courses. I've no doubt that this pack could offer a structure, ideas and resources which could usefully be used by teachers wanting to work with pupils in this way.

I've equally no doubt that many teachers would enjoy trying many of the activities themselves. In fact, the publishers might consider marketing it as a resource for professional development days.

Linton Waters is Shropshire county adviser for mathematics

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