Plan to cure fear of maths at school

TEACHERS SHOULD organise desks in a U-shape and sing Five Little Speckled Frogs with their five-year-olds, according to new government guidelines on how to teach maths.

More mental arithmetic and fewer calculators form the centrepiece of plans to banish the fear of maths and turn Britain into a more numerate nation.

The 117-page guidance represents the most detailed government advice ever sent to schools on maths teaching methods. From September a new daily numeracy hour will be introduced in primary schools.

Even the arrangement of the furniture is important, the document suggests. It proposes placing desks in a U-shape with the weakest children sitting in the centre of the U.

The guidelines suggest that four and five-year-olds in reception classes might sing Five Little Speckled Frogs before counting frogs and lily pads in the sand and water trays.

Yesterday's document says teachers should spend the first five or 10 minutes of the numeracy hour on oral work and mental arithmetic, the next 30 or 40 minutes on a new topic or practising an old one, and the last 10 to 15 minutes summing up to the whole class.

During the mental arithmetic sessions pupils might play a number game in which they are asked to give examples of a number one less than a multiple of five, or a calculation with the answer 12.

Pupils should have the mental arithmetic skills to work out different ways of answering questions such as 81 minus 26 or 5 per cent of pounds 3000.

Calculators, the document says, should not normally be used for under- eights but older children should be taught how best to use these "powerful and efficient tools".

The guidelines advise teachers to spend as much time as possible teaching and questioning the whole class instead of dividing them into groups.

Mr Blunkett told a London conference yesterday: "Too many people in Britain say with almost a badge of pride that they never did understand maths properly. Yet it is essential in everyday life and to the life of our economy. Dealing with figures should be just as important as the ability to read, yet maths is sometimes the poor relation. We want to promote a `can-do' attitude towards maths across the community."

Tony Blair announced that next year will be Maths Year 2000, and Carol Vorderman, the mental arithmetic expert from Channel 4's Countdown programme has agreed to give the initiative her backing.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said that "in principle the maths hour represents sound educational practice" but warned against over prescription.

"Schools already succeeding should not be compelled to turn their maths teaching upside-down to accommodate the bureaucrats at the Department for Education and Employment who, once again, appear to be rampaging out of control."

Counting on Brain Power

Mental arithmetic strategies for 11-year-olds:

Use related facts and doubling:

t double 176 = 352 (200 + 140 + 12)

Explain how to find sixths and twelfths by halving thirds:

t one-twelfth of 300 is 25.

(one-third of 300 is 100, half is 50, half again is 25)

Continue to multiply a two-digit number by a single-digit number, multiplying the tens first:

t 86 x 7 = (80 x 7) + (6 x 7)

= 560 + 42

= 602