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There's a cube in my bucket

Mottik, Class Pack Pounds 43.95; Accessory Pack Pounds 12.95; book Pounds 9.95., From James Galt Co, Brookfield Road, Cheadle,Cheshire SK8 2PN. Mottik is certainly different, although at first glance it might appear to be just another construction kit, and none too exciting at that. On examination, it has hidden qualities which make it well worth considering.

The Mottik Class Pack comes in a large, lidded plastic bucket and includes enough to satisfy a group of up to six children. The apparatus itself is unusual. The pieces come in three shapes, cubes, prisms and cylinders (wheels), and six bright colours. They have a chunky, solid feel and are a comfortable size for little hands. Although they stack freely like bricks, they do not lock together like Lego. They are designed to be connected by four varieties of "joiners". These are plastic rods, not much bigger than matchsticks, and are the weak point of the system. Not only will they be very easily lost, they are also quite easily broken, fiddly to use and can need some force to fit into place. They are also what makes Mottik unsuitable for the very young.

Nevertheless, the system of connection is ingenious and the models made do not fall apart easily, even if played with or dropped. If you discount the depth of the components, most models are two-dimensional representations of shapes, people and objects rather than truly three-dimensional. However, this is one of the differences which makes Mottik attractive. I tested it on children aged six, nine and 11, who produced some super and satisfying results which they were loathe to dismantle.

An Accessory Pack, for which there is plenty of room in the bucket, adds the cylinders, which are not only important as wheels but also make excellent eyes.

But the secret of Mottik lies in the key stage 1 teachers' book, Problem Solving Activities for Young Children with Mottik, which is the strength of the system, and one of the most stimulating, clear and productive books of its kind.

The authors rightly state that, if children are given Mottik in an unstructured situation, they will be unlikely to discover its potential or to exploit its possibilities. The methodology suggested has much in common with the introduction of Turtle Graphics, using the LOGO computer language.

The philosophy is also similar. Through finding the solutions to some simple questions, from a photocopiable page, children will quickly pick up the possibilities and can then be set some of the more open-ended and thought-provoking problems printed on other reproduceable pages. The many mathematical properties of Mottik are also explored to the full.

If the teachers' books are properly used and the small joining rods well looked after, Mottik could provide an extremely stimulating and productive support for primary problem solving and mathematics.

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