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started30th Apr 1990
ended25th Jun 1990
last rpt18th Jun 1992
3 school years
duration15 mins
age rangeAge 9-11
languageenIn English

Mathsworks is a BBC schools TV series from the 1990s, covering Mathematics for primary school pupils.

Adam Henderson explaining dimes and quarters to UK viewers

What would happen if children weren't taught maths in school, but still needed to use it in their everyday lives? The sometimes ingenious dramas, animations and documentary sequences in this series show kids working out for themselves how to solve problems such as measuring the area of a lawn, and estimating how much money they have to spend.

All of the dramas and other sequences were produced in America in 1985 by the Agency for Instructional Technology for a series called Math Works. The BBC selected eight of the AIT's 28 episodes which were relevant to the maths National Curriculum, and added new theme music and new studio sequences with Canadian actor Adam Henderson to explain the problems and how to solve them. Adam also explained some of the American concepts used in the films for British viewers, especially in the episode about estimation, which uses American money and the concept of sales tax.


Quick episode list

# Title Broadcast
1. Measurement: Finding Areas of Rectangles 30 Apr 1990
2. Exploring Geometric Shapes 10 May 1990
3. Measurement: The Difference Between Perimeter and Area 14 May 1990
4. Place Value of Large Numbers 21 May 1990
5. Estimation Strategies 4 Jun 1990
6. Using Graphs 11 Jun 1990
7. Probability: Possible Outcomes 18 Jun 1990
8. Measurement: Dividing Regions into Subregions for Finding Area 25 Jun 1990
Num Title Archive Broadcast
1. Measurement: Finding Areas of Rectangles BBC 30 Apr 1990
A square metre
  • Shirley and Bobby make money by mowing lawns in their neighbourhood. But a new smooth-talking boy moves in and undercuts them by charging one penny per square meter of grass. The children must work out how to find the area of a rectangular lawn, and quickly!
  • Math and Magic animation: A mother witch will bequeath a small plot of land to whichever of her two daughters is the first to work out the area of the land.
2. Exploring Geometric Shapes BBC 10 May 1990
The shapemobile
  • Nancy tries to channel her exhuberent young brother Jason's energy by building a go-kart for him. She and her friend Roy draw a plan and ask for all of the different shapes they need at a repair shop.
  • The Flat Earth Society animation: in a world inhabited by two-dimensional shapes ("flatties") and three-dimensional shapes ("roundies"), the 'insubstantial' flatties are mocked by the roundies. But the flatties realise that by putting themselves together they can become any 'substantial' 3D shape they like.
  • A New York landscape architect talks about the different shapes in playground equipment.
3. Measurement: The Difference Between Perimeter and Area BBC 14 May 1990
Considering the birthday cake
  • Duane has run out of candies to decorate a surprise birthday cake for his mom. His sister Lisa suggests that they would have enough candies - and some left over - if they put them in a circle round the outside of the cake instead of a star in the middle.
  • Later the children have been given a fence to make a small garden near their house. They argue over whether they would get a greater area of garden if they make it square or rectangular.
  • The Magic Carpet animation: Ali Baba needs a new magic carpet to accommodate all of his family. An unscrupulous salesman offers him a brand new carpet with the same perimeter of his old one, but he soon finds that perimeter is different from area.
4. Place Value of Large Numbers BBC 21 May 1990
Adam demonstrating place value
  • Heather and Jason are reading books about the solar system and dinosaurs for their science reports. They can't make any sense of the very large numbers in the books that they are reading, until Heather falls asleep and dreams that they are flying a spaceship and have to set the distance controls to get home. Luckily they notice that the numbers are split into groups of three...
  • The Emperor's New Clothes animation: An emperor in ancient times has to order new clothes for his army, but he is does not understand large numbers: he sees the number 60074 and orders six hundred and seventy-four uniforms.
5. Estimation Strategies BBC 4 Jun 1990
Is she the real princess?
  • Terry has $6.50 and thinks he can afford to buy six action figures, but he has rounded all the prices down when he estimated, and got it wrong.
  • A school class have made a collection to buy their teacher a going-away present. Doris and Darryl go out to spend the money, and keep track of how much they are spending by writing down the dollars and ignoring the cents. Doris insists that they are careful to keep some money back to cover the cents and the sales tax.
  • The Long Lost Princess animation: Two identical-looking girls arrive at the palace claiming to be the king's long-lost daughter. He asks them both how much money they will need to do their shopping. One rounds the prices to the nearest hundred, and the other simply takes the hundreds value of each number. The king realises that although the first girl was closer, the second behaved more like a rich princess who was used to having lots of money and worried more about spending it than having enough.
6. Using Graphs BBC 11 Jun 1990
Creating a circle graph
  • Lindsay and Katie try to persuade their headmaster to buy new uniforms for the girls' sports teams. They have lots of good points but their evidence is disorganised. They notice how information is presented in graphs on TV, and use a computer to help them make pie charts, bar graphs and line graphs to show relevant information.
  • A newspaper graphics editor talks about how she decides when to use different types of graphs and displays them in an attractive way in the newspaper.
7. Probability: Possible Outcomes BBC 18 Jun 1990
Chooseing a toothpick
  • Wendy and Alison both want the last piece of pie at dinner, and they plan to flip a coin to a find a winner. But their older sister Miranda wants a chance to win the pie as well, so their father asks them to draw toothpicks instead. This time Wendy's chances of winning have changed from one in two to one in three. Their father decides that he would like a chance to win the pie as well, and Wendy's chances are down to one in four.
  • Later Wendy and Alison find a bag of marbles, and take turns drawing different colours - on each turn their probability of getting the colour that they want changes.
  • Probability is related to weather forecasting and film of the 1988 UK storm is shown.
8. Measurement: Dividing Regions into Subregions for Finding Area BBC 25 Jun 1990
The Kid Covering Company
  • Denny and Jenny are the Kid Covering Company - they will cover anything with anything, as long as it's legal and as long as it's rectangles. They are asked to cover a lady's floor with carpet, but have problems because the room is L-shaped - until they realise that this shape can be divided into two rectangles. Next they are asked to turf over a lawn, but have trouble because the lawn includes a bird-bath, steps and other obstacles. This time they realise that they can subtract the area of these smaller rectangles from the area of the whole lawn area. Finally they have to cover a man's garage in marble, but have trouble with his triangular roof.
  • Trouble in Shape City animation: this wild west city is segregated between the four-sided shapes and the odd shapes, who are not allowed into the exclusive Top Shapes Club because they don't know their area. But one day an odd-sided shape works out how to find their area by dividing themselves into several rectangles. All is well - apart from the outlaw shapes, diamonds, triangles and circles, who can't work out their areas, for now...


Presented by Adam Henderson
Education Officer Julie Cogill
Designer Judith Mead (episodes 1-4)

Katia Montillet (episodes 5-8)

Graphic designer Clive Harris
Assistant producer Claire Parker
Producer John Allman (episodes 1,3,7 & 8)

Art Fitzsimmonds (episode 7)
Peter Barton (episode 2)
South Carolina Educational Television Network (episode 4)
Future Positive Systems (episode 5)
The Illinois State Board of Education (episode 6)

A BBC TV production in association with the Agency for Instructional Technology

No credits were ever given for the actors in the drama sequences, or those responsible for the animations.


1990 wallchart listing
Mathsworks follows shortly 1991.jpg
  • Summer 1990: Mondays 12:35pm, repeated Thursdays 9:25am
  • Summer 1991: Tuesdays 9:45am, repeated Fridays 10:40am
  • Summer 1992: Mondays 10:00am, repeated Thursdays 10:00am

The first broadcast of this series in Summer 1990 had been advertised for Thursdays at 9:25am beginning on 3rd May. The series was broadcast in this slot, but there were also earlier transmissions on Monday lunchtimes (except on 7th May, which was the May Day holiday). Several changes were made to the summer 1990 BBC schools TV schedules between the wallchart timetables being issued to schools and the programmes actually going out - and I'm not really sure why!


Teacher's notes

Photocopied teacher's notes written by Julie Cogill were issued to accompany each broadcast, detailing the programme contents and with pupils' worksheets.

Schools broadcasting teacher's notes often included solicitations for feedback from teachers who used the series, but in these notes the request was even more prominent than usual. It was explained that "using a broadcast resource from another country is a new venture for the BBC and we would be very interested to know of your views on this series."[1]

Although a new Maths Works title sequence was created for these UK programmes, the logo used on the front of the teacher's notes is actually the American Math Works logo with an extra "s" added to it - you can tell that the two words are not lined up properly, and the outlines of shapes on the background grid are much thicker than the shapes used in the real Maths Works title sequence. The same off-centre logo is used in the studio behind Adam Henderson's desk.

Related programmes


Sources & References

  • BBC Annual Programme guides and termly timetables, 1990-92
  • Cogill, Julie (1991) Mathsworks teacher's notes summer 1991. London: BBC. ISBN 0 563 34712 0
  • Education Guardian television listings, 1992
  • Radio Times television listings, 1990
  • Times Educational Supplement television listings, 1991-92
  • and recordings of all 8 episodes
  1. "Using a broadcast resource..." quote from Cogill (1991) p.1


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