The golden rule is to try the programs yourself before letting your pupils loose on them. When trying the software, don't just give the right answers to questions; pretending to be wrong will show you how the program deals with pupils who make mistakes. Try pressing incorrect keys or click on the wrong area of the screen. This will show you how robust the program is. All the programs mentioned here are easy to install and use.
In primary schools, there are new programs giving high-quality practice in key stage 1 activities such as matching, sorting and number bonds. The RM Maths Learning System (see right) sets a standard which others will have to try hard to beat, although Primary Maths 1 and 2 from Sherston Software come close.
The use of computers in mathematics has broadened to include not just commercial packages designed to teach or illustrate a particular aspect, but also generic packages such as spreadsheets or drawing programs which are seen as essential in the mathematics classroom.
Data-handling has assumed a greater importance in recent years: there are many programs that introduce pupils to data-handling, among them the excellent First Workshop from BlackCat. At key stage 2, Number Box from BlackCat introduces information handling and graphs in an accessible spreadsheet, with useful tools that enable pupils to calculate statistics such as the median, mean and mode. Granada Learning continues to extend the range of Maths Explorer programs with two new ones - Shape and Space for key stages 1 and 2, and Number (KS2). The first of these is set in a medieval castle and requires pupils to solve problems based on topics such as area, symmetry and angles For secondary pupils, SMILE continues to develop its excellent programs for use on Windows PCs. The latest pack, Number 8, Numeracy, contains nine programs that develop skills in estimating, equivalent fractions and number bonds.
One of the best uses for technology in maths is dynamic geometry. There are three main packages available: Cabri Geometry II (Chartwell-Yorke), The Geometer's Sketchpad (Capedia) and Geometry Inventor (TAG). They allow pupils to explore points, lines, lengths, angles and distances in a dynamic way. Some of the packages can be used to learn about transformation geometry as well as constructions.
Finally, look at integrated learning systems from RM and SIR. Many teachers feel they make a difference to pupils' progress. And there's a new UK kid on the block - Headstart GCSE Maths.