Added value

6th January 1995 at 00:00
4Mation stand 376, Ablac stand 120, Acorn stand 241, Association of Teachers of Mathematics stand A12, Black Cat stand 515, Chartwell Bratt stand S10, Mathematical Association, stand A7, NCET stands 640, 628, Philips Media stand 786, SIR stand 101, TAG Developments stand 166. Eagerly scanning the advance publicity for BETT '95, I tried to see if there was anything which might indicate a trend towards maths software which rejects the old drill-and-skill of some years ago. Unfortunately, there still seem to be a few producers who believe that this is what a computer in the classroom is for, but I shall spare their blushes here.

I am glad to say that there are many more companies showing packages which will either add value to the learning of mathematics, or even better, generate a real desire to learn.

It is sometimes easy to concentrate in a show like BETT on the well-known commercial names, but the Mathematical Association and the Association of Teachers of Mathematics both produce high-quality software.

On the first day of the show, incidentally, speakers from the Mathematical Association will be running seminars in which they explain how spreadsheets can be used in primary and secondary schools. Another seminar will demonstrate the Sketchpad program from Geometer, which can be used to introduce students to the essence of mathematics through geometry.

Maths software, particularly for primary and lower secondary pupils, has increasingly used the techniques and ideas of computer games to capture their attention. While some may deplore this trend, I have to admit that the results can be attractive and promote learning. Good examples have come from companies like Lander (Count and Add) and 4Mation (Maths Circus). Ablac will be showing two additions to its Maths Blaster series, including The Secret of the Lost City, based on outer space, for the 8 to 13 age range.

I have often wondered why Logo and its associated microworlds have not secured a firmer hold in the maths classroom, despite some excellent programs from suppliers such as SMILE and the National Council for Educational Technology. Demonstrating several Logo programs will be TAG Developments, including Microworlds Maths Link. This is said not only to be a full implementation of the language, but also to include activities covering a very wide range of maths topics. Turtle Math, presumably from the US, also looks like a colourful and easy-to-use introduction to Logo.

Plotting data and creating graphs are ideally suited to the computer and there are plenty of good programs on the market already. But two very promising newcomers are Descriptive Statistics from TAG and Counter Plus from Black Cat. Both allow the data and its associated graphs to be seen at the same time, and the former provides analysis tools to explore the statistics of the data. TAG also offers Algebra Animator, which allows pupils to attach mathematical functions to graphic objects to control their coordinates and dimensions an interesting new development in graphing programs.

Chartwell Bratt offers three programs for older pupils and college students, including a new version of Derive, one of the market leaders in analysis and function software, and Mathematics with Excel. This latter program promises to show how the spreadsheet can be used to visualise mathematical ideas, and how it can be linked to Derive.

Although multimedia machines and software are on the increase in schools, there seems to be little new in the mathematics field this year. Philips Media is showing a variety of titles in its CD-i format, including maths titles, but these seem to be out on their own. Several companies are boasting of multimedia versions of programs but a careful reading usually reveals nothing more than souped-up sound or snazzy graphics some way short of the real thing.

Finally, you may well have read of the claims being made for integrated learning systems (ILS see page 6). These programs, in which pupils work at exercises tailored to their individual levels, have, according to initial evaluations, led to astonishing gains in skills. Global Maths, from Systems Integrated Research (SIR), is a British version which is on trial in many schools, with some success. My initial impressions, from an extended but limited trial, are that this is a system with potential, but there are still too many gaps in the continuity of the material. One of its undoubted strengths, however, is the management system which records the pupil's progress and allows the teacher to produce an individual learning program.

Acorn is currently working with SIR to transport the data management system and software to an Acorn platform, which could mean that this approach to learning becomes much more widely available in our schools. This is a space well worth watching.

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