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Wicked questions

No one seems to expect maths to be much fun - not even the makers of schools maths programmes. The BBC's series for nine to eleven-year-olds, Maths Challenge, features a cartoon character, Matt Mathics, who is up against the evil Dr Strangeglove and has to get the right answers to prevent this villain from carrying out monstrous schemes, such as pulling the plug out of the ocean. Luckily, Matt has three special agents and Miss Minnie Pinny to do the sums for him. (Radio 4, Fridays, from September 26; and on video with teachers' notes, activity books, cycle cards and posters.) 4Learning's Maths Mansion (returning to Channel Four on September 24) has a questionmaster who would make Anne Robinson look compassionate: he threatens visitors to his Gothic mansion with frightful penalties if they fail to solve the problems he sets them.

Mental arithmetic works particularly well on radio: close your eyes and concentrate. For seven to 11-year-olds, the BBC is broadcasting a new series of Maths Adventure (Radio 4 from September 24).

This is a reasonably unthreatening mental maths programme in which Paul Broadbent takes pupils through a succession of puzzles and calculations, ending with a problem to work on after the broadcast has finished. Mental Maths and Megamaths return to Radio 4 on September 23 and 25 respectively, with problems for children aged five upwards.

A television series of Megamaths (BBC2) started on September 8, with five programmes on fractions for seven to nine-year-olds; and there will be repeats of Channel Four's Number Crew and Star Maths during the term, covering work for all ages in primary school.

For older students, BBC2 has a new package, The Contenders (from September 22), which follows six young people at work in a variety of jobs, and shows why key skills are important in such different sectors as advertising, catering, the media and financial services. The overall message is that maths may be a strain on the brain, but it's useful and can be very satisfying when you get the hang of it.

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