MEGAMATHS. BBC2. Tuesdays 11.15-11.35. Age range: 7-9.
The power of television both as a learning medium and a motivating agent are well accepted. Many children learn poorly from the written word and the inanimate diagram. Explain the same concept to them orally, and understanding increases. Model the concept physically and children will cry "Oh, I get it now!" However, some concepts are difficult to model in a lesson. Modelling very large numbers such as one million, or the speed of a rocket, would tax even the most inventive teacher. Through the use of film and animation, videos can bring these concepts to children in a digestible manner.
The motivational strength of the medium can also be used to stimulate activity. While the images from a programme are still fresh in the children's minds, they can be encouraged to try out what they have seen and they often exhibit greater creativity after such an input.
The new series of Numbertime on time is an excellent example of these two aspects at work. Time is a difficult concept to learn and to teach. Long periods of time are hard to simulate in the classroom and exercises in reading the clock can be deadly dull.
This set of 10 programmes takes children gradually through the concepts of night and day, days of the week, and so on, before tackling the clockface.
The programmes are divided into short sections, each with their own strong story line in a variety of styles. These themes occur in the same order for each programme.
Capitalising on the young child's love of the familiar and of repetition, there is a lot of humour. Ideas for follow-on activities are provided through the teacher's notes, which provide a wealth of practical ideas.
Songs from the television programmes come with the pack. These are fun, with a variety of pop and traditional styles.
Megamaths: Money and Division follow a similar format to the previous Megamaths: Tables. There is plenty of action and humour, centering around the antics of characters from a pack of playing cards. As with Numbertime, a variety of styles ensures that there is something to please everyone.
The emphasis throughout the Money programmes is on the development of mental methods - children are encouraged to develop their own, to talk about them with others and to learn mental strategies from others.
The teacher's notes outline the concepts covered in each programme alongside additional activity ideas. Many are open-ended, with adaptable activity sheets. Games, role play and problem solving are used to stimulate and challenge.
The material for Division, however, is less inventive. The emphasis is on the model of sharing, which leaves little scope for finding new methods or extending activities. The antics of the characters help a little to liven the subject, but even they struggle to make the concept interesting.
Two activity packs have been written by Kjartan Poskitt to support Megamaths. They contain excellent activities with a mixture of problem solving and games.
Again, the Division pack contains fewer open-ended tasks than the Money one, but even when the activity is mechanical, the subject is presented in an interesting format, helped by cross-references to the series.
Video cassette, teacher's notes, photocopiable activity sheets plus audio cassette to accompany both series are available from BBC Education Publishing, Freepost LS2811, Wetherby, West Yorkshire, LS23 6YY. Tel: 01937 541001