26th May 2000 at 01:00
Primary. USING ICT IN PRIMARY MATHEMATICS: practice and possibilities. By Bob Fox, Ann Montague-Smith and Sarah Wilkes. David Fulton pound;13.

This timely book provides analysis, debate and practical guidance on the role of computers (rather than ICT as a whole, as the title suggests) in mathematics education. The authors approach the subject in the way they suggest teachers do: with "a bouncy enthusiasm tempered with a healthy scepticism".

A couple of scene-setting chapters offer a lucid account of computer technology in primary schools (particularly attitudes towards it) over the past 20 years; and of the shifting concerns and expectations regarding primary maths which have culminated in the numeracy strategy.

The bulk of the book focuses on computer software (integrated learning systems, adventure, logo, and so on). Backed up with research, case studies and commercial examples, each type is thoroughly evaluated in terms of its educational value and its practical use.

The authors claim much software is poorly suited to the daily mathematics lesson. Integrated learning systems, for example, can provide back-up learning at playtimes and after school, bt they hardly fit in with the interactive, whole-class, cut-and-thrust philosophy of the daily lesson. Good problem-solving programs, some logo programs and data handling tools seem to hold the most promise.

The greatest potential, they say, lies in using the monitor as an "electronic blackboard", and offer some excellent examples of on-screen work.

Using a computer in this way raises all sorts of logistical issues which the authors tackle head on: the number of children who can watch an average-sized monitor in comfort, what to do with the rest of the class if they can't see, how to position the children, yourself, and the keyboard. And no, a computer suite is not the solution.

The book ends with a look at some of the sophisticated technology on the market such as interactive whiteboards and a laptop with a removable screen which can be placed on to an overhead projector. These are beyond the budget of most primary schools, but with the price of technology rapidly falling, it may be a peek into the not-too-distant future.

Paul Harrison Paul Harrison writes primary maths books and is a former headteacher and lecturer in maths education

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