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How to make maths magical;Numeracy

Chris Drage looks at some of the best numeracy and geometry software available

The classroom computer offers children a flexible learning environment and motivation to learn, reinforce and consolidate their numeracy skills. Information and communications technology offers wonderful opportunities for problem solving (a focus of the National Numeracy strategy). Moreover, computers can provide children with an additional means of practising and developing skills which have been covered in numeracy lessons.

Similarly, there are many basic skills and concepts in mathematics which children need to reinforce and computers can provide support through well designed software, placing them in a situation where they can hone their skills and be quite unaware of it!

From the earliest years, software such as Tizzy's Toybox (Sherston, pound;42.95) offers a wonderful range of activities highlighting both the cardinal and ordinal value of numbers couched in the most delightful animated graphics. Its collection of educational activities are full of lively animations, speech and music. All the key skill areas are here: one-to-one correspondence, size recognition, sequencing, prepositional adjectives, matching, lettersound recognition, spatial matching, rhyming words, colourword matching and counting.

These skills can be further developed with two other lively CD-Roms which put fun into early number learning for five to seven-year-olds: Primary Maths 1 and 2 (Sherston, pound;29.95). Both are full of colourful animated exercises that introduce and practise early numeracy skills such as sorting, matching sets, ordering and counting.

On the geometry side, All About Shape amp; Space (Granada Learning, pound;49) is designed to support shape learning at key stage 1. Following Granada's very successful format, topics covered include symmetry, right angles, sorting, matching and an introduction to directional work; in fact, most aspects of the shape and space component at levels 1-3.

One of the key skills at key stage 2 is to become fluent in the recall of multiplication bonds. Amazing Maths (cambridgeshire Software House, pound;29.95) and Megamaths Tables (Longman Logotron, pound;39) can be recommended. The former uses the maze scenario to give children practice with number operations and number bonds. While the latter offers a variety of exercises to help children to learn their tables all couched in different mathematical challenges and puzzles.

Another title which children adore is Table Aliens (Sherston, pound;24.95). It sets the learning of times tables in a whole new context: if children can sharpen up their number skills they may be able to help stop the Earth being overrun by the Table Aliens, but it's not easy! It's a perfect scenario to help children learn those all important number bonds and puts the fun back into learning tables in a highly original and motivating way.

Computer software can provide an excellent stimulus to problem solving and help children develop strategies. There are several programs which develop these particularly well. Maths Circus (4Mation, pound;27.50), Crystal Rain Forest 2000 (Sherston, pound;59.95) and Logical Journey of the Zoombinis (TAG developments, pound;39.95).

Maths Circus is a collection of 12 problem solving tasks each with five levels of difficulty based around a circus theme. The program caters for a wide range of ages and abilities and permits progress to be monitored. Children love these challenges! Check out Maths Circus Act 2 (4Mation, pound;27.50) for 12 more puzzles to tease, confound and educate.

Crystal Rain Forest 2000 introduces and develops Logo programming and includes angles, distances and estimating and makes children apply concepts of shape, space and movement to problem solving situations. The original program has a been a bestseller since 1992.

In the Logical Journey of the Zoombinis, children build and improve mathematical thinking skills as they lead the Zoombinis on an escape to a new homeland. Twelve sets of puzzles develop data organisation and thinking skills vital for understanding advanced maths concepts such as algebra, set theory, graphing and data analysis.

A common problem identified by school inspectors is that children do not have enough opportunities to explore the principles of mathematics in the context of the real world. Maths Explorer (Granada Learning, pound;59 for five-user licence) gives children a motivating means of doing just that, by providing them with a virtual learning environment with stimulating activities and projects, all national curriculum based.

Lastly, do you have a group of able, Year 67 mathematicians who need a challenge? Try Cheferen's Pyramid (Nichol Education, pound;39.95). Designed for lower secondary pupils, I have used this one with capable 11-year-olds and they love it! They become totally absorbed in the problems and puzzles of the pyramid as they attempt to climb it from the lower levels. It all goes to show that numeracy is not something that takes place in a designated hour but is all around us, is stimulating and has real applications.

All prices exclude VAT

Sherston Software 01666 843200

TAG Developments 01474 537886

4Mation 01271 325353

Granada Learning 0161827 2927

Cambridgeshire Software House 01487 741 223 http:ourworld.compuserve.comhomepagescshsoft

Longman Logotron 01223 425558

Nicholl Education 01484 860006

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