Real-world connections;Reviews;Mathematics;Secondary

13th March 1998 at 00:00
MATHS PLUS. General Editors Jill Larne and Sheila Beniston. Student Books 1 and 2 pound;6.99 each. Teacher's packs 1 and 2 pound;44.99 each. Collins

What do snooker and darts have in common? Both can help convert pupils who think they hate maths, discovers Gerald Haigh

The fascinating thing about darts on television is hearing that man with the portentous voice say, after some quick mental arithmetic, "Eric, you require 97". You then look at the player, knowing that in the space of perhaps three seconds he is working out how to achieve just that score and no more with three darts on the dartboard. Good maths teachers have, in fact, quite commonly used darts, and snooker, in their mental arithmetic lessons.

It is not common, though, to see such exercises in print, and in this Collins textbook, the two pages on, respectively, snooker and darts are extremely well done, complete with photo-graphs of Stephen Hendry and Eric Bristow. The questions, based on pictures of combin-ations of snooker balls andclusters of darts on a dartboard, are challenging and intended to be done realistically: "Do the sums in your head - just write down the answers."

Maths Plus follows the lead set by the successful CollinsScience Plus and English Plus, in that it is intended to switch on pupils for whom maths is something to avoid. Collins editor Gareth Price, who is also credited as one of the writing team, says that the book is designed for "those who try hard but find the subject very difficult, and those who hate maths and have stopped trying".

The aim, therefore, has been to produce material that is well illustrated, in colour, and is interesting - exciting even - as well as being soundly grounded in good maths. Collins, says Gareth Price, saw this as two separate tasks. "We took on two authors to get the maths right and a third, not a mathemati-cian, who had the job of looking for connections between the maths and the real world."

Book One covers six maths topics: numbers, using a calculator, money management, clocks and time, measures, statistics. Each is divided into about six sections, mostly of two pages each. Each section applies the topic to something in real life, and each has a photograph which provides a way in to discussion of the subject.

Thus "Measure", for example, includes in its seven sections one on "length", which starts with a snippet - and a photograph - of the longest thumbnail in the world and goes on to an exercise based on the sizes of kitchen units. Another section, "Capacity", starts with some informa-tion about 500-litre whisky barrels and goes on to various exercises in the handling of litres, centilitres and millilitres.

Each section has links to information technology where appropriate, and there are progress tests at intervals.

The teacher's pack, in addition to suggesting how to use the book and providing answers to the questions, has a series of assignments that will build to a portfolio in line with the requirements of the Northern Examinations and Assessment Board Certificate of Achievement in Mathematics. It also has photocopiable support sheets, often with easier examples, for pupils in difficulty.

There is nothing new about trying to motivate reluctant pupils by giving them material closely related to real life. What is good about this scheme, though, is that it takes a sensible idea and does it extremely well. The books look and feel good; the maths is sound; the ideas are interesting and will appeal to all pupils, not just those having problems.

The books follow the requirements of Certificate of Achievement courses, but there is evidence from early users that maths departments will also be able to use them to help marginal GCSE students - "something extra to help them on their way", is how Gareth Price puts it.

Student book 1 and its teacher's pack are out now. Book 2, and its teacher's pack, are due later this school year.

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