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Number crunchers

Lots of new maths packages will be spilling off the display stands at BETT. Ian Wilson picks his way through some of the best

There are now probably more new maths software titles lined up for launch than at any other time in the past 10 years. But is it a question of never mind the quality, feel the width? The releases can be divided roughly into three categories - basic skills work, geometry and shape handling, and packages for advanced students - with the first group by far the largest. Whether this reflects an increasing concern to raise pupils' achievements in the light of national testing or a lack of demand for other material is difficult to say.

Topologika has won several awards for its software in recent years, and the company's new MathsBook may well put it in the running for recognition again. I have seen a draft version, and was impressed by how easy it is to use.

It deals solely with addition and subtraction practice, and can be tailored to levels of difficulty and help. It also records the attempts a student makes to complete a calculation so that the teacher can view these later and decide on what intervention is appropriate.

A previous offering from Hazelnut, Number Time 1, was well reviewed, and Number Time 2 looks interesting. Again, the emphasis is on practising basic skills, in this case the number tables and telling the time. The CD uses speech to ask the pupil the sum selected. Animation and sound are used well to reward the child for correct answers, and the CD will appeal to special needs pupils.

A package for the Acorn Risc PC covering similar ground comes from Creative Curriculum Software. Magic Maths is designed to give children mental practice on the four rules, and also uses sound to read questions and answers. The game is designed around a colourful snakes and ladders board.

The company is also presenting new versions for Windows of Maths Gen and Maths Card, which enable teachers to produce printed work sheets for practice in the four rules and, with the latter, fractions, decimals, and long division and multiplication.

Yorkshire International Thomson Multimedia (YITM) is showing its new CD-Rom, Breakaway Maths, designed to encourage less able 7 to 12-year-olds. It is set in Alton Towers, posing problems based on the rides within the theme park. The complexity of each exercise is automatically adjusted by the program in line with each pupil's progress.

There are only a few offerings in the area of space and geometry, but Capedia has a new Windows version (3.0) of Geometer's Sketchpad. This allows you not just to draw shapes, with vertices, centres etc automatically labelled if you wish, but also to perform traditional geometric constructions, bisections and proofs. Angles, lengths, and areas can easily be measured, and transformations such as rotations and reflections are made at the click of a mouse. Longman Logotron offers Versatile, a tiling package which provides many possibilities for the exploration of shapes.

For older secondary and further education students, MathPlus from Robinson Marshall is an excellent tool for solving equations with full graphing facilities.

It is easy to use, with a palette of the most common symbols and expressions available to click on while writing equations. Graphs can be plotted in two or three dimensions and can be animated. Finding the roots of polynomials is a simple process, as is evaluating most integrals.

Alge-Blaster from Ablac is now available on CD-Rom, and teaches some of the basic algebraic processes, including solving equations and drawing graphs. Notable features include practice at translating word expressions into algebraic expressions, and a video blackboard to show how problems are solved.

Teachers of GCSE and Advanced statistics should look out for 1st, 1st Junior and 1st L from Serious Statistical Software. These packages cover not only teaching the techniques but also the project work needed.

I would also urge you to look out for the new TI-92 graphical calculator from Texas Instruments which is a very powerful combination of calculator and palm-top computer. This sets a new standard which other manufacturers will have to work very hard to surpass.

Systems Integrated Research has a very intriguing offering, Framework of Secondary Maths Assessment, produced in conjunction with the Shell Centre at Nottingham University. This promises to provide an assessment framework which not only identifies successful learning but also indicates those areas where there are misconceptions in reasoning. This may be the answer to every hard-pressed secondary teacher's prayers.

* Ablac - stand 120

Capedia - stand 372

Creative Curriculum Software - stand 420

Hazelnut - stand C95

Longman Logotron - stand 261

Robinson Marshall - stand 284

Serious Statistical Software - stand C87

Systems Integrated Research - stand 660

Texas Instruments - stand 734

Topologika - stand 406

YITM - stand 402

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