How to feed the dog with fractions
The Maths in Context series comprises four packs of copiable worksheets aimed at lower-attaining GCSE students, typically those working towards grades G, F or E. These first two packs address the Number and Algebra attainment target of the national curriculum. Packs 3 and 4 will cover handling data and shape, space and measures.
The authors aim to "set mathematics into a working world context" and the sheets feature a series of characters in "real-life" problem-solving situations. Barney is a builder who has to read plans, buy materials and organise loads into different-sized trucks. Dee is a clothes designer (there is little attempt to challenge gender stereotypes) who has to design a shirt to a budget.
Many of the contexts are encouragingly inventive and go a long way towards avoiding the tedium of many "maths at work" type exercises. For example, an activity intended to practise using percentages involves the design of a lighting display for a pop concert and another, using fractions, is based around feeding unwanted party sandwiches to the pet dog. A motor-racing team pops up regularly tackling problems such as how to crate up their kit as they fly between events, recording lap times to appropriate degrees of accuracy and sorting out ranking points.
The sheets are all highly illustrated but the reading demands are sometimes significant. How much they will appeal to teenagers will clearly vary. The authors suggest the approach is intended to help disillusioned students make a fresh start. This is a tall order but they might well help motivate some struggling young people when used as part of a broader range of sensitive, supportive teaching strategies.
The mathematical demands of the activities are generally appropriate to the target group and in the teacher's notes which accompany each worksheet there are some useful suggestions for extension activities. However, inexplicably, the authors appear to be unaware that a revised national curriculum order was implemented in 1995. As far as I can see, the activities are referenced to the 1993 Programmes of Study. While this does not prevent effective use of the ideas in the classroom, it will be seen as a significant disadvantage by many teachers. In particular, it makes it more difficult to find an appropriate sheet to support a particular mathematical idea at a particular level from the current curriculum. More significantly, the balance of work addressing algebraic ideas at levels 3 to 5 does not reflect the current orders.
Nonetheless, for additional support for foundation level GCSE students, these packs are worth considering.