We have the technology so why, asks Ian Wilson, is the subject so ill-served?
The possibilities offered by multimedia machines should be as great for mathematics education as for any other subject. So why, with a few honourable exceptions, have publishers and software developers not exploited this medium?
One of the leading companies has five pages devoted to art CD-Roms, eight for history, even four for modern languages, but only three pages listing mathematics CD-Roms. And, of these, several come from the United States. It is indicative of this rather neglected opportunity for mathematics education that the Mathematics Association was unable to supply anyone with views on the subject.
Ronnie Goldstein, of the National Council for Educational Technology, who is widely respected for his work on micros and maths, says: "Apart from The World of Number (New Media, Pounds 79), there is hardly anything worth considering. I am not sure why, but people have not produced programs that could not just as well have been put on floppy discs."
Of course, if you can load a new program from a CD-Rom rather than from several floppies, it is more convenient and quicker. But given the fact that most maths programs take up at most three floppies the advantages are negligible. Surely the capacity of the CD-Rom to store much greater amounts of data and to incorporate video and sound should have been just what program writers were waiting for. So, given this somewhat depressing picture, what is currently available which is worth considering?
The World of Number, which Ronnie Goldstein mentioned, was commissioned a few years ago by the then National Curriculum Council, and comes on four discs.
"Who stole the Decimal Point?" is an adventure in which a group of students discover a computer virus which corrupts any calculations that involve a decimal point. The source of the virus is traced to an old country house where the teenagers become locked in a room by Count Integer. The students can only be released by the successful completion of a series of problems.
"Picture Gallery" contains around 750 still pictures which can be used as the basis for many activities. The most useful aspect of this program is that, using the Tool Box software supplied, you can draw on top of the pictures and measure distances and angles.
"Perspectives", currently available only for Acorn machines, makes good use of the CD-Rom's capabilities. The screen is split into four, so that pupils can look at the same information from different viewpoints. For example, pupils are provided with a video of an athlete in motion, and with graphs and axis labels. When the pupil has correctly chosen the graphs and axes to match the video, it is replayed with an animated graph superimposed.
"Number Games" is a collection of seven problems or investigations, two of which are supported by computer simulations which allow investigation on screen.
Virtual Image has an interesting collection of programs which relate to shape and space. Art and Mathematics (Pounds 49.50 + VAT) looks at the influence of mathematics on art, and The Uniform Polyhedra (Pounds 49.50 + VAT) contains some impressive animations of all 75 uniform polyhedra. From LCL comes a CD version of its Micro Maths programs (Pounds 29.77 + VAT), which includes interactive "films" in which students play the part of a GCSE maths aural examiner and carry out an examination on an actress playing a student.
The Yorkshire International Thomson Multimedia CD, Breakaway Maths (Pounds 65 + VAT), set in Alton Towers theme park and designed to encourage less able students to progress in maths, is shortly to be reviewed in The TES. Soon there will be other software developers such as Hazelnut and Smile producing programs to exploit all the opportunities opened up by CD-Rom. Perhaps maths teachers, who have at least as much imagination as other teachers, need to be more demanding?
* All these CDs are available from AVP, School Hill Centre, Chepstow, NP6 5PH. Tel: 01291 625439 or REM, Great Western House, Langport,TA10 9YU. Tel: 01458 253636