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Systems summed up;Reviews

Ian Wilson chooses software to accompany the numeracy hour

Two different learning systems, from RM (Research Machines) and Longman, stand out from the crowd. They combine ease of use with good coverage of the curriculum. And in judging ease of use, I am taking into account how easy it is for a busy teacher to set up the system, as well as its accessibility for pupils.

Longman's two modules cover Key Stage 1 and are part of the Tomorrow's Promise ILS (integrated learning systems). These modules, adapted from original US software, provide a full year's material for use during the numeracy hour. Each lesson comprises an introductory session, practice, and further activities based on realistic problems.

Included with the disks is the Compass management system. This gives teachers the option of either controlling the material presented to the pupil themselves or leaving the program to determine the path taken by the pupil based on his or her progress.

The presentation is excellent, with clear explanations and good graphics, reinforced by sensible use of sound. These disks are reasonably priced and provide a full and well thought-out programme of work.

A few years ago, RM introduced the American ILS Successmaker for secondary pupils. Now, it has produced an ILS for primary schools, its first for the British market, called RMMaths Learning System. It uses many of the same ideas as the secondary version to make management of pupils' prog-ress as easy as possible. RM says that 10 to 12 pupils using a single computer for around 15 minutes a day will benefit from the program.

The activities are based on levels 1 to 4 of the national curriculum. Headphones are essential since much of the support given is via audio. There are more than 10,000 activities, organised in blocks aimed at different levels. A grid is provided for teachers, clearly showing which strand of the attainment targets is being covered in each block.

Animation and characters are used to demonstrate something which the pupil is expected to copy. The emphasis throughout is on building mental fluency, and very few of the activities need pencil and paper.

If pupils give a wrong answer, they are first told it is wrong, then if they make a mistake again they aregiven a clue. After a third wrong attempt the correct answer is given. If this happens, or the correct answer comes only at the third attempt, the program automatically regresses to an earlier skill in the same topic. Most pupils will almost certainly have been successful at this and so they will gain the impression that they are succeeding most of the time.

The great strength of this program is in its management systems. You first have to set them up to contain details of each of your pupils. You can set the point at which the pupil starts within a block, and also the "confidence level" that adjusts the way in which the program deals with progression and regression through the activities.

A high confidence setting means that pupils will get an audio prompt after a short period of inactivity and, after making a mistake and regressing to an earlier activity, they will return more quickly to the original activity for another attempt. Although RM suggests 15 minutes a day on the program, you can set whatever time limit you wish for each child.

With both programs, you can obtain reports that show how individual pupils are making progress, and where they are having problems. The RM system provides more detail and will also allow you to record short comments which can be printed out and attached to pupil records. This report is well-designed and gives a comprehensive picture of children's progress and achievements.

Longman Tomorrow's Promise Maths Levels 1 and 2 pound;90 each single user licence. (PCMac) Network versions also available. Contact 01223 425558 RM Maths Learning System pound;495 per single user licence Contact: 01235 826969 Ian Wilson is headteacher at Woodcote high school, Croydon

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