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Comment: Kids Don’t Count

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By Tim MajorEditor of Child Education PLUS

Channel 4’s Dispatches series deals with the difficulties that children and teachers have with basic numeracy, and the programme seems to have caused some controversy already.

The featured children of Barton Hill Primary School in Bristol initially showed a poor grasp of maths fundamentals such as calculations involving fractions. Even some of the teachers confessed that they had disliked maths when they were at school, and this childhood aversion seemed to persist in their own taught lessons.

Enter Richard Dunne, an author and consultant who specialises in making basic maths calculations more tangible. Using paper cups to represent units, Richard asks children to model addition, subtraction, multiplication and division calculations (or ‘maths stories’) by moving cups from one table to another. He’s an amiable tutor, and his methods are accompanied by a range of gestures to aid children’s understanding (for example, multiplication is represented by a kiss, as in: ‘I love what you do so much I am going to repeat it’).

The main controversy surrounding Channel 4’s programme relates to a maths test that the producers asked a selection of teachers to sit, featuring questions of a level suitable for an 11-year-old. The story that the media picked up even before the documentary was broadcast revolved around the fact that on average, the teachers answered just 45 per cent of the questions correctly. The Times reported that only 20 per cent of the teachers correctly calculated that 4 + 2 x 5 is 14, and that a third of the teachers solved the calculation 1.4 divided by 0.1.

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