An inspiration to the novice

6th September 1996 at 01:00
MATHEMATICS IN THE PRIMARY SCHOOL Edited by Christine Hopkins and Susan Gifford David Fulton Pounds 13.99.

Mathematics in the Primary School aims to provide students, non-qualified and practising teachers with the background needed to teach mathematics to children aged three to 11. While each of these groups might use the book, I suggest that it is best geared to the needs of teachers in training, many of whom lack confidence in their ability to teach mathematics and need an overview of the subject at key stages 1 and 2. The contributors, all tutors at the Roehampton Institute, are well-placed to meet this need.

The book is organised more or less in line with the programme of study, with "using and applying" at its foundation. The authors have opted for a plain account, geared to the novice teacher, with glossaries to explain some of the trickier words. Clear exposition about content and on teaching approaches is inter-spersed with class-room case studies - an approach that successfully illustrates and gives credibility to the "theory".

The book is selectively incomplete. For example, the brief guidance on what to do with LOGO would not be useful unless you had some hands-on experience of the language. This is inevitable, and my sense that some sections, such as those on multiplication, are rather thin perhaps reflects my own priorities. Along with the uncomplicated prose comes a prosaic attitude to mathematics itself, which is presented as being there to be taught rather than to be enjoyed. No mention of "investigations" here.

That this book is the obverse of the celebrated and similarly-titled Mathematics in Primary Schools (1967) must be more a sign of the times than of the editors' disposition.

The book is useful for beginning teachers in its occasional accurate summary of controversies and issues, such as calculators, in school mathematics. While the guidance about mental methods of calculation is excellent, I believe that students in training also need much more detailed understanding of the standard written algorithms - not necessarily in order to teach them, but to contribute to debate about them.

This book will support and complement the work of school mentors and university mathematics curriculum tutors, whose role must be to inspire students and offer them a more detailed experience. One of the tenets of the book is that the published primary mathematics scheme can be a useful resource, but that it is not a solution. While the analogy with published mathematics pedagogy is obvious, I will include this particular contribution on my own students' reading lists.

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