The Really Useful Maths Book: A Framework of Knowledge for Primary Teachers

Author(s) Henry Liebling, Tony Brown
Publisher Routledge Falmer
Published 2005
Pages 216
Price £17.99
ISBN 0415252083
Reviewed by Ms Caroline Besley
University of Bristol
Review published 4 October 2006

In my opinion ‘The Really Useful Maths Book’ is exactly that. It makes an excellent companion to the National Numeracy Strategy (NNS) (1) while advocating an approach to the teaching and learning of mathematics that is creative, varied and exciting. It is particularly useful for anyone involved in delivering the primary mathematics curriculum but also includes activities suitable for students of any age and pedagogical content which offers inspiration to any teacher.

The book is organised into two main sections with cross referencing throughout. Part I, ‘Mathematical Activities and Teaching Strategies’, gives really useful suggestions for a huge range of activities under the four headings of Numbers and the Number System, Operations and Calculations, Shape and Space and Measures and Statistics and Data Handling. It includes detailed discussion of how the activities might be managed and gives some insight into how learners develop in their understanding of mathematics and in their ability to work mathematically.

Part II, ‘Developing Interactive Teaching Strategies’ is, for me, where the book gets really interesting. Here the authors review and discuss current thinking in education so providing a research based synopsis of a wide variety of approaches to interactive teaching, including sections on questioning, assessment for learning, problem solving, successful learners and emotional intelligence. While using examples of activities to illustrate points, this section serves to support the reflective practitioner in developing approaches to teaching which could be applied to any activity or, in a broader sense, any learning objective.

While accessible and reader friendly, The Really Useful Maths Book contains a huge amount of information and so reading it does require a certain level of commitment but it is well worth the effort. With an extensive bibliography, details of other sources, organisations and websites, I am finding it useful as a reference book to use alongside the NNS Framework: while the NNS tells me what to teach The Really Useful Maths Book helps me to explore how I might teach it.(2)

In some respects the activities and ideas included are not new; I have come across lots of them in various guises before. However the rich discussion around them has enabled me to think about new ways of using them. For fans of Straker(3) the approach that the authors use reminds me of that employed by her. It is creative, thoughtful and freeing and gives space for a dynamic amongst teachers and learners to grow so nurturing the culture of the classroom. There are plenty of activities which were new to me such as Passola which has instantly become a firm favourite. Interestingly there are just a few well chosen photocopiable resource sheets – new or old these activities require something other than the handing out and completion of a sheet.

I have spent much of my time as a teacher trying to unravel what makes a good lesson(4) and for a long time believed that the key to having a good lesson was having a good activity. I have come to learn that, while good activities certainly help, a successful lesson has many facets and that a highly desirable skill to develop is the ability to effectively craft a good lesson whatever the activity. On the surface this book is about a collection of good activities but underneath it is about becoming a more effective teacher.(5) In it I found a beautifully open approach to teaching which at its heart is mindful of the development of the whole child and ultimately serves to help teachers empower learners.


1 DfEE 1999. Framework for teaching mathematics from Reception to Year 6. DfEE Publications

2 Brown, M., Millet, A., Bibby, T. and David, C. 2000. ‘Turning Our Attention from the What to the How: the National Numeracy Strategy’, British Educational Research Journal 26 (4) pp.457-471

3 Straker, A. 1993 Talking Points in Mathematics. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

4 Besley, C. 2005 Investigating Perspectives on ‘Good’ Mathematics Lessons in Order to Develop Personal Practice. MEd. Dissertation. University of Bristol

5 Askew, M., Brown, M., Rhodes, V., Johnson, D. and Wiliam, D. 1997. Effective Teachers of Numeracy. London, King’s College