More than the sum of the parts

5th April 1996 at 01:00
Longman Primary Maths offers support for teachers and a variety of learning styles for children, writes Shirley Clarke. LONGMAN PRIMARY MATHS R. RECEPTION: Teacher's Handbook. Pounds 45 plus VAT. Number Skills Activity Mats. Pounds 35. Workbooks 1,2,3,4. Pounds 6 per pack of eight Practice and Enrichment Workbook. Pounds 7.60 per pack of eight. Assessment and Records Book. Pounds 19.95 plus VAT.

LONGMAN PRIMARY MATHS 1. YEAR 1: Teacher's Handbook. Pounds 45 plus VAT. Workbooks 1,2,3,4. Pounds 6 per pack of eight. Practice and Enrichment Workbook . Pounds 7.60 per pack of eight. Shape and Space Workbook. Pounds 4.80 per pack of eight. Measures Workbook. Pounds 4.80 per pack of eight. Number Skills Activity Cards. Pounds 35. Assessment and Records Book. Pounds 19.95 plus VAT.

The organisation of Longman Primary Maths is admirable and so are its activities for shape, space and measure. But, as is often the case, the Year 1 activities for number focus more on acquisition of skills than application and exploration. The rest of the scheme - up to Year 6 - will be complete by February next year. (The Nursery Handbook was reviewed in The TES on December 8 last year).

Both of the new modules consist of eight units, each expected to last a month. The units are referenced to the national curriculum in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland with extra sections on how to start off the year (first days) and cross-curricular ideas (themes and events). Each unit is divided into mental maths activities, teaching focus, assessment and practice and enrichment, a supportive framework for teachers as it ensures coverage and gives children a variety of learning styles.

The reception mental maths activities are mainly whole-class rhymes and simple counting games led by the teacher, keeping number as a constant feature in the child's life. By Year 1 the activities are disappointingly repetitious, mainly focusing on the counting sequence using washing lines, cards and counting sticks, where children are asked lots of closed questions.

The teaching focus section consists of a number of sub-sections, each with practical yet manageable activities and a "circus" of theme-based activities.

These use excellent resources, such as Compare Bears, Polydron, Roamer and PIP (programmable robots), Lego, Multilink and natural collections, and are suitable for whole-class lessons (for example, reading stories which link with the maths; comparing the lengths of the children's names), groups (printing with various things to make a repeating pattern) and work in pairs (each child makes a repeating pattern using Compare Bears, cubes or pegboards and swaps it with a partner, who then has to copy it). Link-up pages are included in the children's workbooks and, for Reception, practical activities with activity mats.

The workbooks are full colour, with simple instructions and little text. The publisher claims a variety of open and closed tasks, but I found very few open tasks in the Year 1 book. The Reception workbooks, however, do justify this claim, with lots of mapping and constructive colouring and activities which have more than one answer - and will make children think.

The Practice and Enrichment workbooks are a major strength, providing related activities for both the less and more able. The teacher's handbook gives further ideas, including an information technology link, which lists appropriate software as well as giving practical activities for using Roamer. I prefer the style of these to the main workbooks, as almost all the activities are open-ended, yet provide a clear structure for the child.

One drawback, however, is the failure to give children any experience of large numbers or to integrate calculators thoroughly, even though these aspects are included in the programmes of study. With more open-ended activities, such as those in the Practice and Enrichment books, however, children can use big numbers if they want to (for example, the coins might include a pound and the way of making 10 might be 100 minus 90).

The Year 1 pack has a collection of expensive number skill activity cards for less able children. These are basically simple lists of straightforward paper-and-pencil calculations, and I would rather have seen more practical activities.

The Assessment and Records Booklet, rather expensive at Pounds 19.95, contains one or two assessment activities to give children at the end of each unit. These are often practical for the Reception units, making them valid and useful, but by Year 1 they are increasingly based on the child completing a worksheet. This is rarely useful in demonstrating what he or she really understands.

There is the usual device of asking pupils to colour in a smiling or sad face to reveal whether or not they have enjoyed the activity. I would like to have seen this extended to telling children the aim of the assessment before the activity, so that they can explain their thinking more accurately. "Diagnostic advice" is not really diagnostic at all, but a guide to which part of the scheme to send the child to next.

The recording system is a single, manageable A4 sheet, one for each child, showing the eight units and their aims with a space for the teacher to write brief notes as the unit is completed.

Each handbook's section on themes and events is excellent, giving maths activities for festivals, visitors to school, maths walks, multicultural stories and toys.

Finally, the set of photocopiable masters for home-school liaison focuses on useful games, puzzles and practical tasks which will enrich the child's mathematical understanding as long as there is some support at home.

Shirley Clarke is INSET co-ordinator for assessment at the University of London Institute of Education

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