Searching for answers

2nd June 1995 at 01:00

Age group: 7-14. By Roger Keeling and Senga Whiteman, book and data files for Nimbus and Acorn A-series computers, 0 948048 07 7. Pounds 15 plus Pounds 1.50 pp KW Publications, 42 Compton Drive, Streetly, Sutton Coldfield B74 2DB DATA HANDLING IN THE PRIMARY CLASSROOM

Age group: 10-11. By Lulu Healy and Celia Hoyles, inc data files for Nimbus, BBC, and Acorn A-series computers, 1 874164 142, Pounds 30 Advisory Unit, Computers in Education, 126 Great North Road, Hatfield, AL9 5JZ

Ian Wilson finds more to dull-sounding databases than might be expected. Don't be misled by ther titles; both these packages cover much of the same ground, but both do so in a more interesting way than the titles might suggest.

The inclusion of data handling within the mathematics curriculum has led to the publication of a number of such collections of data sets for use with the commonly-used information retrieval pro grams such as Query and Grass. Teachers have become more confident about encouraging children to create their own databases, but this can be very time-consuming and, at first, the results may not produce worthwhile activities. Hence the attraction of packages which provide well thought-out activities based around the databases provided as well as others based on children exploring their own data.

The authors of the first book make the interesting distinction between data and information handling, saying the latter involves processing the data, interpreting and analysing it. Healy and Hoyles rightly emphasise that a database in itself will not stimulate constructive querying and conjecturing. Pupils need to research something meaningful to them.

Four activities are provided in Maths through Databases. The first two, "Find the real Father Christmas" and "Who stole the sausages?" are introductions to interrogating databases. They are entertaining detective games suitable for pupils at the upper end of key stage 1 or the start of key stage 2. Pupils have to search the database to answer questions about the identities of possible suspects in such crimes as a dog stealing sausages from the butchers.

The third database gives information about a collection of two-dimensional shapes. This set allows a large number of investigations to be carried out, and the suggestions made for possible investigations are very good. For example, pupils can search for a relationship between the number of internal right angles in a shape and whether or not it is concave.

The authors state that these investigations are most suitable for pupils at key stage 2, but I feel that some secondary pupils would also benefit from tackling the tasks, as indeed they would from those based on the fourth database. This includes data on the first 900 numbers, including the factors, whether a number is prime, palindromic, square, the digital roots etc. Thirty starting points for investigations are given, and teachers will be able to supply many more.

The book contains masters of worksheets to accompany all four databases. Given its very reasonable price, this package provides a good resource for primary and lower secondary schools.

The other package comes in one of those nifty plastic wallets and includes a set of work cards and a poster as well as a book and the discs. The pack was produced as part of a Nuffield-funded research project at the University of London Institute of Education, which involved working with pupils in several London boroughs.

The authors have identified eight general ways to design and carry out research involving databases. These frameworks, as they call them, cover activities such as Testing People, Surveying Objects, and Surveying over Time. Pupils are introduced to the first few frameworks by projects based on the databases supplied.

These activities are similar to the other package's. For example, using a database of house data, pupils have to find the most suitable home for the alien XY22P and its family. Other activities involve setting up taste tests, testing badly-designed spinners, and examining reading materials for factors such as the gender of the leading character, and whether gender affects pupils' choice of material.

The book contains excellent teachers' notes on how to use the projects, including two case studies drawn from the research project. As with the first package, the databases have been devised with care, and are sufficiently large to allow reasonably complex questions to be asked. This package has been well produced, and will be particularly useful to primary teachers who lack experience of handling this part of the curriculum.

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