Hands on

6th April 2001 at 01:00
Flexible, multi-level and a doddle to use, Acorn geometry and statistics program Autograph is now available for PCs. And Ian Wilson believes it's signature software for the subject

There's nothing all that unusual about teachers writing software but it's rare to see it being published. And it's rarer still for the software to be as good as this.

Working with programmer Mark Hatsell, Douglas Butler of Oundle School has produced a PC version of an acclaimed geometry and statistics program for the Acorn platform. Given its reasonable price it is likely to become market-leading software for teaching the subject.

Autograph is dynamic software for many areas of mathematics. Suitable for pre-GCSE to Further Maths levels (and beyond), it operates in two modes: graphs and co-ordinate geometry; and single-variable statistics and probability. The program works with objects such as equations or probability distributions that can be drawn then selected. Secondary objects, which depend on selection, will update automatically when changes are made to primary objects.

The program comes with a selection of resources to help you understand these principles and get started. Screen Cam tutorials illustrate basic uses; for example, they show operations to produce transformations such as rotation and reflection, construct a cardioid or plot a probability distribution. You can follow the 45 exercises in a manual.

The CD-Rom contains files of data and illustrations of applications; for example, the distribution of National Lottery numbers and a sample from a binomial distribution superimposed on the theoretical distribution.

Alan Catley of Tynemouth College uses Autograph for A-level and has created worksheets to support self-study. Some are included as are worksheets by other users and banks of images and Internet pages complete the excellent resources section. The program's website provides further help and includes downloadable files.

It's worth working through the introductory exercises (or watching the Screen Cams) to understand how to use Autograph's many functions. A useful function in the graphs mode is the button that lets users select a group of co-ordinates and manipulate them by transformations. The choice you are given here is typical of the program's thoroughness.

Other functions that make the program so versatile include one which animates objects by changing the value of a parameter; one which changes the grid to equal aspect ratio; and one which finds the best parameters of a normal, Poisson or binomial distribution to fit a data set. Data for work in the statistics mode can be entered directly, copied from Excel, generated by a probability distribution or imported from a CSV (Comma Separated Values) file. Equations are easily entered as text. Adding labels to graphs is also straightforward and results can be copied and printed.

A minor criticism is that the selection buttons on toolbars change when you move from a graph to a statistics page and although the purpose of many is obvious from their icons, you'll be forced to the manual for others.

One teacher is quoted as asking, "What doesn't it do?" and after several months' use I am also only just starting to find out about Autograph's possibilities. I have seldom enjoyed experimenting with a program so much and I am sure you and your students will feel the same.

Autograph for PC from Eastmond Publishing

Price: pound;50 one-user, pound;400 site licence

Tel: 01832 273444


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