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Exercising the mind

Play and adventure can improve children's maths skills. Veronica Poku reviews some new resources.

Space Station Alert: Adventures in Shape and Space. By Simon and Adam Hosler. Sherston CD-Rom (single user), pound;49.95 (plus VAT). Multi-user packs available Tel: 01666 843 200

Starting Out: Foundation Stage Mathematics By BEAM. BEAM Publications, pound;47.50 (plus pamp;p). Tel: 020 7684 3330.

Mental Maths in Minutes for Ages 5-7, 7-9 and 9-11. By Andrew Brodie. Andrew Brodie Publications, pound;16.99 each.

Tel: 020 77580200

Space Station Alert is another impressive piece of maths software from Sherston. Simon Hosler has produced a highly visual package for use at the end of key stage 2; it will immediately grab the attention of any jaded pupil, with its opening reminiscent of a less visceral version of Alien.

You can complete the work in activity mode or in adventure mode, which allows children to work through the same activities but under the guise of a mission.

We are led through Space Station Omega on a quest to cure the inhabitants of a mysterious virus that strikes the crew down and puts them into a deep sleep. The activities or adventures that we then take part in, to eradicate the mysterious virus, can be undertaken as a whole class or individually.

The tasks involve the children using their knowledge of angles, reflective symmetry, the nets of cubes, angles in triangles, and co-ordinates with translation and rotation as well as creating quadrilaterals and 3-D construction.

There are two levels of difficulty so there is the opportunity to differentiate the eight activities, or the adventure, according to the children's abilities. The instructions are written and spoken clearly which makes this CD-Rom accessible to children with weaker literacy skills.

One minor quibble would be that it is quite difficult to escape from answering a question that you are having difficulty with. This could end up being quite frustrating. On the other hand, it does encourage children to try and is a good example of "trial and improvement" in maths.

The areas covered will help teachers in consolidating the areas mentioned in "Implications for teaching and learning from the 2003 tests" ( ukcatests).

Space Station Alert is a challenging and stimulating resource that emphasises problem-solving and thinking skills in an enjoyable way.

BEAM has produced a well-laid-out and accessible resource that could prove itself invaluable to foundation stage practitioners.

The activities for three to five-year-olds in Starting Out cover the three main areas of development in maths: shape, space and measure; calculating and numbers for labelling and counting. Helpful signposts are included to note whether progression is taking place and indicators as to what the next stage should be.

The teacher-led and the child-initiated play activities are generally imaginative and easy to organise, and should prove to be an enjoyable learning experience. There are also ideas for making maths a more holistic classroom experience, with maths in the carpet area and in the wet or dry sand trays.

The section on how to assess children's development will act as a great diagnostic tool for teachers new to the foundation stage as well as a good reference point for the more experienced practitioner.

At the back of the folder are useful pointers on resources that could be used, as well as assessment activities and exemplar plans.

This is another well-thought-out resource from BEAM which will have a practical application in the classroom and will act as a fine source of reference.

Mental Maths in Minutes has been created for what is now an integral part of the daily maths lesson. The easy-to-administer and photocopiable sheets can act as a quick and easy-to-use resource. The exercises can be timed over one minute and all four operations are covered.

The element of challenge increases as does the motivation to improve on previous scores. These books are a useful addition to the publications already out there.

Victoria Poku is maths co-ordinator at William Morris Primary School, in Mitcham, Surrey and leading mathsteacher for Merton

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