Designed to draw out key skills

6th October 1995 at 01:00
SPMG PROBLEM SOLVING ACTIVITIES OMNIBUS PACK. Books 1-5 - 435 02340 3. Pounds 55.95.

MATHS PLUS KEY STAGE 2 ASSESSMENT FILE. - 435 02341 1. Pounds 64.95

KEY SKILLS IN MATHS: KEY STAGE 1. OMNIBUS PACK (Counting, Pattern, Fractions, Addition and Subtraction) - 435 02348 9. Pounds 24. Heinemann Educational

Shirley Clarke looks at some primary resource packs which range from strong problem-solving work to generous amounts of colouring in.

Heinemann's latest publications are a mixed bag. The Problem Solving Activities are by far the best buy, the Assessment File contains only some worthwhile material and the Key Skills books contain, on the whole, a little maths but a lot of colouring-in.

The Problem Solving Activity Books are part of the SPMG scheme, with each book corresponding roughly to a national curriculum level. The books contain an increasing number of activities, each with teacher's notes and corresponding worksheets or resource sheets.

They provide welcome possible solutions for the teacher, although it is always a worry that this could encourage teachers to try to teach children the solution.

The books get better as they go up the levels. Book 1, if seen in isolation from the others, could put you off buying the rest, because the majority of the spreads are not problems - according to the criteria of "using and applying mathematics - at all. They are simple activities, such as "count the triangles in these pictures" and "colour the hat that is different in each set". Four spreads, however, are real problems, with children invited to find different ways to combine colours or see how many small circles will fit round the circumference of different sized circles in flower patterns, using their own methods and ways of recording.

Half the activities in Book 2 are real problems, with some good examples involving a range of contexts and practical resources. Books 3 to 5 contain a worthwhile range of excellent problem-solving activities, with the spreads becoming more resource-oriented, encouraging group discussion and allowing children to find their own ways of recording, which is not so likely when the spread is in worksheet format. I particularly like the inclusion of real life problems such as "from a range of comics, see if the cheapest comics contain the smallest number of pages".

All the books could have provided more extensions, which would have encouraged more depth, and, to get the most out of the problems, I would encourage teachers to start the children off orally rather than present them with the worksheets.

The Key Stage 2 Assessment File comes clean about its intentions, at least. It aims to provide "tangible evidence", "prepare children for SATs", and "help in writing reports", as well as develop maths skills. It is not a requirement to provide "evidence of children's levels" (DFE Circular 2194), and preparing children for tests through test lookalike material is not necessarily the best way to enhance their learning. However, the file does contain some useful material.

It is divided into two parts, the first of which is a number of AT1 activities. These are differentiated by outcome and provide levelled performance indicators. They are classic problems, such as "Handshakes", "Mystic Roses", "Frogs" and "Policemen at the corners of the sheets", which have always provided excellent investigative material. The outcomes are well explained for the teacher, but the photocopiable worksheets for children are often rather text-heavy. The activities, as before, would be better presented by the teacher.

The approach to AT1 is via pure maths problems only and, of course, the performance indicators are written according to the authors' interpretation of the level descriptions. If these activities are to be at all reliable, it would be necessary to do a number of them and then use the results to complement the outcomes of your other investigative work.

The rest of the file, which assesses the other attainment targets, consists of a great number of skill-based worksheets, which are no different from the worksheets you might find in any commercial scheme. Levels are awarded according to a total of marks. This approach is highly unreliable, aims to turn teacher assessment into SAT-type tests and relies heavily on a child's reading ability and performance on one day.

The Key Skills Books have, to their credit, a very simple worksheet format with one-line instructions and simple tasks. The Counting book contains some useful activities, such as finding missing numbers, number games and good ordering and place value activities. But the books generally encourage children to spend hours drawing or colouring in, which holds up their maths development considerably. Some of the spreads are confusing and mathematically suspect and might undermine children's mathematical confidence.

Shirley Clarke is Inset co-ordinator for assessment at the University of London's Institute for Education

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