John Dabell finds an Aladdin's cave, a cantankerous wizard and some friendly Furbles are the perfect solution for primary pupils
Abacus Evolve Talk Maths CD, Years 1-6P1-6; GinnHarcourt pound;75+VAT each
www.abacusevolve.co.uk www.myprimary.co.uk firstname.lastname@example.org
The Wizard's Apprentice; By Simon and Adam Hosler; pound;70.44 (incl VAT) single user, pound;352.21 (incl VAT) unlimited user
Furbles: Data Galore!; By Alec McEachran Sherston pound;58.69 (incl VAT) single user, pound;293.46 unlimited users; www.sherston.com
A problem shared in maths is often a problem solved: thinking + talk = eureka. Well, maybe. Talk actively fuels understanding and, in maths, chatter definitely matters.
Taking part in peer and self-assessment enables learners to focus on where they feel least confident and teachers to judge the quality of children's thinking and customise their learning opportunities.
This is the rationale behind Abacus Evolve Talk, a collection of primary pupil software worth its weight in gold: a thinking, talking and an assessment for learning tool, all rolled into one.
The authors' collective expertise is showcased, with 15 activities for each year at three levels of differentiation. It's a doddle to use and jam-packed full of support. The pdf files of teachers' notes for each activity open up into an Aladdin's cave of guidance: strategies, things to look out for, prompts for getting the show on the road and ideas for further questions and milking learning opportunities.
The activities are designed for pairs of maths buddies, although bigger groups could interact well with the content. Presentations are neat and have understated confidence. They sparkle without being flashy.
The tailor-made degree of challenge will meet the needs of 99 per cent of learners. The How To Play feature and voiced instruction are accessible and friendly. There are photocopiable sheets for some activities to support children, refine and summarise their ideas. Talk Maths could be used as a stand-alone resource or with Abacus Evolve workbooks and textbooks, with an interactive whiteboard in class or in the technology suite.
Like any resource, it needs a skilled teacher, managing pupil discussions without hijacking learning, promoting participation through canny questioning, listening to pupils and giving feedback.
Also worth a look is the Abacus Evolve Solve the Problem software for Y1-6P1-6, which follows the same talk-based philosophy, with open-ended challenges.
You can expect high standards from Sherston, but The Wizard's Apprentice oozes excellence. Medieval mystery, magic and wizards, sure-fire hooks for children, are cleverly exploited to support learning about spreadsheets at key stage 2P3-6.
Children start their adventure by applying for the job of assistant to the Great Alphonso, a famous but cantankerous old wizard. They learn to use his Magic Tablet in eight structured activities. They learn to use correct cell addresses, look for patterns, create and develop formula, use a prepared spreadsheet, interpret data and construct charts and graphs.
Each activity has been created by skilled artists and computer programmers.
Children will be challenged every step of the way.
The programme can be used in "adventure" mode as a series of activities, or they can be done in isolation. One of the best features is the Help Files menu, which supports children being introduced to new concepts through demonstrations and injects consolidation when needed.
Spreadsheets facilitate number experiments and are dynamic problem-solving tools which can improve higher order thinking skills. The Wizard's Apprentice is a powerful visual learning tool for bringing some much-needed magic to spreadsheets. Highly recommended.
If you're teaching data handling up to KS3, let in the Furbles: delightful 2D shapes. There is a square, an equilateral triangle, a pentagon, a hexagon and an octagon. They come in seven colours and can have up to eight moving eyes that follow your cursor. The Furbles act as data and operate in clans for producing bar charts, pie charts, tally charts, Carroll diagrams and Venn diagrams. Children develop problem-solving skills in 13 colourful and clever learning activities, each made up of 10 progressively harder questions.
The Explore mode allows you to customise your clan of Furbles: perfect for using with interactive whiteboards. There is also a walkabout button for instructing Furbles to find a new position on screen and a Window feature for hiding data. Support for teachers is impressive. Furbles are the shape of things to come: this software is technology at its best and well worth the money