Maths with style

10th October 1997 at 01:00
Planet Number. CD-Rom for Multimedia PC; Pounds 49.95. Learning Methods Unit, Aquinas Building98 Mount Pleasant Liverpool L3 5UZ.

Mathematics teachers in secondary schools will know only too well the problems of motivating the group of pupils for which Planet Number has been designed - low achievers at key stage 4. They suffer from low self-esteem but usually know that mathematics is important. One school of thought says that, for these pupils, mathematics needs to be "relevant", that they need to be shown how mathematics is used in the real world and how essential it is that they master the basic skills. An alternative view is that these pupils are more likely to learn when the mathematics is put in an enjoyable setting and when they do not feel patronised.

This CD-Rom takes the latter approach, using techniques used in games software. It does not claim to do much more than reinforce basic skills and knowledge, but it does so in a highly entertaining way.

Players have to rescue the world from impending disaster by repairing three damaged satellites that form part of a defensive shield against asteroids. They have to journey to Planet Number in order to refuel and are forbidden to take currency so they must earn it there by solving mathematical problems. The first move is to decide which space craft to use - I particularly liked the eco-friendly one which bore an uncanny resemblance to a cardboard box. Players must also choose an assistant, who pops up in video form (or text if preferred) to offer tips on solving problems.

The buildings on Planet Number are in the shape of digits, and you have to solve a simple number puzzle to gain entrance to each building. Once inside, you move from room to room by completing tasks such as balancing number scales, completing number sequences, equating decimals and percentages or cutting a pizza into given fractions. Each time you complete a task successfully, money is added to your bank account, with a satisfying sound of cash dropping into a box. To find out how much you have at any time, you click on a gold credit card.

Pupils are now used to high-quality graphics in their games and this CD-Rom will not disappoint them. The sound is also good and the background music can be turned off (I found it too repetitive). The manual, however, is less impressive. The language level of the background information is too high and the pupil's section is too long. The notes for teachers are in the same manual, with a step-by-step guide to the game, but with an injunction not to show this to the pupils. Separate booklets would surely not have been too much trouble. And I am not happy about the advice that it is not necessary for teachers "even to have used the program themselves". How will you know how best to use the program with a particular pupil?

A set of worksheets is provided to practise some of the activities on the disc. Work through the game yourself, follow the advice about ways of using it in the classroom and you will then be in a good position to motivate those pupils.

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