It all adds up to a lot of sense
Rosalind Walford looks at a maths scheme that motivates children to learn.
The underlying philosophy of Abacus is: teach, make sense, practise. There are three packs: Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 - and teacher cards for each year group, which are central, providing the launch point for every unit of work by introducing new areas. On the reverse of every card are activities (differentiated for three levels of understanding) for group and individual work. A pack of resources and games supports these activities, along with a reference book of five-minute activities and individual workbooks.
The teacher cards give practical guidance on the introduction of topics to the class or groups. Each one gives a broad area from the national curriculum, say, numbers to l,000 and then pinpointing specific teaching points, say, to read three-digit numbers, or to recognise the relationship between hundreds, tens and units. The introduction is interesting, motivating and practical, encouraging an excellent level of discussion and participation from the children.
The "making sense" activities on the reverse of the teacher cards are also motivating. They are coded according to varying levels of difficulty from basic work for those uncertain of the concept, through to enrichment and extension activities for children who are more confident and competent.
The scheme encourages the introduction of new concepts to children of differing abilities, and differentiation is achieved through these activities. There are lots of opportunities for group discussion, checking work and devising methods of recording.
The practice phase is covered by photocopiable masters, an Infant Simmering book packed with excellent five-minute maths games, and a set of workbooks for each year group. The latter are clearly set out, using only key words where appropriate without the complication of additional text and instructions, which can defeat less able readers.
The books are perhaps a little simplistic for more advanced pupils, but many extension activities are included. The upside of this approach comes in the organisation; in any classroom it's a balance between differentiation and manageable organisation.
Thirty children on different pages in workbooks can cause immense difficulties, and the handover at the end of the academic year can be a nightmare; the scheme tackles this tricky area realistically.
Assessment grids are provided at the back of the teachers' book and are structured according to selected items from the national curriculum level descriptions, based on an "I can . . ." format to allow self-assessment. All grids are cross-referenced to the relevant teacher cards.
The scheme is practical and motivating and should prove a powerful tool in the delivery of the maths curriculum. It is well-structured, using highly practical means, making children enthusiastic and interested in the discovery of new concepts.
On the financial side, the workbooks may be quite costly from year to year but they are clearly set out, balancing issues of differentiation versus organisation. We look forward to Abacus for key stage 2.
Rosalind Walford is mathematics co-ordinator at Belmont primary school, west London