Problem solving pleasures
Breakaway Maths is designed for pupils who are having problems with their mathematics, but surely many children will enjoy working through storybooks which take them on a school visit to a castle at level 1 and on an outing to Alton Towers at level 2.
The teacher's resource books claim that children who experience difficulties in mathematics are most likely to be identified and cause concern between Years 2 and 3, so the materials have been written with these age groups in mind. However, children from a much wider age range find problems with basic ideas in mathematics and are likely to benefit from Breakaway Maths.
The two packs consist of a teacher's resource book, a series of story booklets with mathematical questions, a number and a topic workbook to accompany each story, a series of copymaster worksheets and a CD-ROM.
The teacher's resource book tells us precisely how the work in both packs is linked to the early levels (mainly 2, 3 and 4) of the national curriculum in England and Wales, with corresponding charts for Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is disappointing that there are so few references to Handling Data, especially as the contexts provided by the stories lend themselves to some imaginative work in this area.
The teacher's resource book offers suggestions for games, investigations and practical activities to accompany the workbooks, but busy teachers might conclude that these are "optional extras" rather than an integral part of the materials. No references are made to Attainment Target 1, Using and Applying Mathematics, in the national curriculum charts because, it is claimed, these skills underpin all the materials. Many teachers would like these skills to be made more explicit and are concerned that some children think maths is only to be found on worksheets.
The questions on Space and Shape in the workbooks do not go far beyond counting pictures of triangles, circles, and rectangles. Those with reading difficulties or who need mathematical reminders are helped by questions which use shapes as well as words, although at level 2 it would be useful to test knowledge of mathematical terms without the obvious clues. However, the diagrams are attractive and involve maths in various contexts such as road signs and maps.
The wealth of suggestions for practical activities in the teacher's resource book provides valuable support for teachers who like to encourage their children to see mathematics as a subject which goes well beyond the routine exercises which dominate the workbook and worksheet material.
The interactive CD-Rom develops the stories in the workbooks and will be enjoyed by many children. For example, they are asked to find their way around a theme park using a map. This will develop their confidence in following directions and planning routes.
It is good to see investigative maths included, with a commentary in the teacher's guide explaining how the tasks are linked to Using and Applying Mathematics. Another strength is in the assessment and recording of pupils' development and the fact that questions can be adjusted by the computer according to the children's responses. I would recommend teachers to have a staffroom copy of Breakaway Maths, particularly the CD-Rom, so that they can use it selectively.