Flexible and specific
A-LEVEL MATHEMATICS Age group: 14-18 By Stephen Webb, Pounds 70. Includes Pure Mathematics 1 and 2. National Extension College, 18 Brooklands Avenue, Cambridge CB2 2HN
The National Extension College has a great deal of experience of producing materials which are flexible enough to be used in many different ways and these two packages have been carefully tailored to meet the needs of specific groups of students.
The Resource Bank is designed for use at key stage 4, with students who are aiming for the top grade at intermediate level GCSE, or a good grade at Higher level. It could also be used by students who are making the transition from GCSE to A-level. The whole pack is photocopiable, and comprises eight sets of activities along with a comprehensive tutor's guide. The activities are not designed to teach the mathematics involved, but to give further practice and consolidate skills.
The activities in each section are largely independent of each other, and as well as practice sheets, there are investigations and explorations. The topics covered include number, vectors, trigonometry and handling data. It is a pity that the worksheets are fairly dull to look at; although students at this level are usually well-motivated, I feel they will not be immediately stimulated by the presentation of the tasks.
There is a useful section of hints, and the tutor's guide gives a thorough classification of the tasks with details of equipment needed and the intended target levels. It is claimed that the package would be suitable for independent study but I cannot envisage students being able to use the materials unaided. There are some good materials here, let down by unimaginative presentation.
The A-level materials are designed to cover the modular courses such as the AEB, and currently consist of a binder and two books covering the pure mathematics core. The materials covering mechanics, further pure mathematics and statistics will shortly be published, so that teachers will be able to purchase simply the mix of options they require. A course guide in the binder explains the different courses and gives tips on how to study the material and prepare for the final examination. The books are written in a very pleasant and discursive style, with many explanations; it is easy to imagine the author talking directly to you.
The working out of examples is very clear, with the sort of "signs" or footnotes that a good teacher would use when explaining the work on the board. The section on sequences and series is particularly good in this respect. I was slightly worried though by the definition of an asymptote as a dotted line on a graph, and by the speed with which differentiation was covered.
There are lots of exercises with worked answers, and these are supplemented by further skills sections in the binder. There is also a booklet of assignments covering the core, based on past A-level questions.
The books and other material are well suited to individual study but could also be profitably used by teachers with classes of A-level students. If the forthcoming materials are up to the standard of those published already, the NEC will have a winner on its hands.