Table Aliens, Sherston Software Pounds 24.95, Acorn 32bit 2mg RISC OS2 or above. Mental Maths, By Anita Straker, Cambridge University Press, Teacher's book Pounds 14.50, Pupil book Pounds 2.40 Answer book Pounds 4.50
Table Aliens is a bright and breezy package of activities to help instil the memory of those crucial number facts. A choice of adventures and activities, using familiar, yet alien imagery, brings significant advantages over paper-based approaches to factors, multiplication facts and random recall.
The thinking is sound, the interpretation of learning needs into activities is good and the familiarity - like it or not - of computer game environments will make this a sure-fire seller for all earthlings.
On the technical side, installation is typically Sherston simple and straight-forward, graphics are crisp and clear and there is no need for expertise in program navigation.
There are numerous options which allow the teacher to set different levels of difficulty within activities and include a challenging timed test to help keep track of individual achievement levels. Photocopiable worksheets are provided for extension work away from the machine and the Aliens' user guide is definitely friendly.
Anita Straker has an excellent track record in turning teachers on to more challenging, problem-solving approaches. Note the title of her resource pack: Mental Maths is not mental arithmetic, but a good dose of intellectual exercise. An alternative title might have been "talking mathematics", for this is really all about helping children to internalise and articulate mathematical ideas.
Each book sets out the content range on the inside cover in a clear, simple grid. There is a wide range of puzzles, games and activities as well as necessary number-crunching. Each activity lasts typically up to 10 minutes and details of the relevant equipment, vocabulary and questions are provided in a superb teacher's book, which includes sound advice on classroom organisation and recording, together with suggestions on how to deliver oral work at national curriculum levels 1 to 3. While there is a good selection of photocopiable support material, the beauty of Mental Maths is that the most important resource is the child as a developing mathematician.
Mental Maths is a wide-ranging scheme, with a clear structure and good continuity. The series starts at a level designed for children aged six and carries through to the latest editions which would suit many 13 and 14-year-olds. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed many of the questions in Book 6. I admit to checking the answers to sort out my logical reasoning occasionally.