Adds up

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
A no-frills collection of maths activities is a breeze to set up and use, says John Dabell

Less is more: such an obvious principle, yet so many software developers refuse to recognise it. Overly-complex CDs may win design awards, but they do so at the expense of meaningful learning. Sums Online has sensibly adopted a "keep it simple" approach and it works. Its collection of maths CDs is admirably uncomplicated and will come as a relief to teachers looking for something that gets on with the job without the frills and thrills that clutter the learning environment.

Sums Online is a collection of maths tests, a handsome gathering of 20 units on CD and online covering a range of essential topics in key stages 1 and 2. Each unit contains four activities pitched at two levels, easy and hard, although the middle ground does seem to be an omission. Including another level in between seems to make sense to cater for the needs of the middle-attaining bulk.

The CDs have a lot of merits and tick a lot of boxes. Installation is embarrassingly quick and effortless, and navigation an absolute doddle. The well thought-out activities are accessed through a main menu screen, which details four core exercises. They are logical, attractive and engaging and will undoubtedly make great revision tools. The graphics are professional without being too formal and the animations are no-nonsense and still fun.

There are learning outcomes listed under curriculum information as well as a handy printable performance report for charting progress. Incorporating Sums Online into existing planning could be set up in a matter of moments.

I have a couple of niggles, however. The recommended modus operandi is to use the activities with an electronic whiteboard, with children working individually. This surely makes a mockery of the resource being "highly interactive". To be a truly interactive assessment tool the resource needs to be part and parcel of a collaborative learning experience in which children can air their thoughts, share ideas and construct their own understandings. For example, I used Quad Quiz collaboratively with some Year 6 pupils who produced some challenging questions about why rhombuses are stereotypically pictured as pushed over squares, and parallelograms as pushed over rectangles. Their conversations provided illuminating assessment evidence that I wouldn't have been able to access with a traditional style test. The CDs do contain some sound and narration, but these add little to the activities. Sums Online is a level-headed collection of maths activities that would be well worth considering as part of an embedded assessment approach where children work together rather than on their own.

* Any four Sums Online CDs and a standard licence costs pound;49.95 plus VAT. An unlimited site licence is pound;99.90 plus VAT Sums Online Stand IT-N95

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