Prize puzzles

16th May 2003 at 01:00
Puzzle Maths Disks 1 and 2. Key Stage 2. Channel 4 Learning pound;29.38 each (+ VAT and postage)Tel: 08701 246 444; www.channel4.comlearningshop.

Puzzle Maths disks 1 and 2 are designed to practise skills introduced in the Channel 4 schools television programmes of the same name. However the software is worth having even if you don't use the TV series.

The disks offer both fun games and tools to assess growing mathematical skills. Activities can be set up for either a single child, or a collaborative group, as part of the daily mathematics lesson. The CD-Roms are divided into five sections - number, addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, problem solving and shape.

There are two games in each section, available at two levels of difficulty.

Disk 1 is aimed at average and above average Year 3 pupils, and Disk 2 their Y4 equivalents. The two lively puppet characters from the TV series, Jake and Jess, present the games and the software includes its own on screen support. Players can choose to "learn the game" via a video clip featuring Jake and Jess who helpfully model how to play the game.

Experienced users can skip this introduction, returning to it at any time to check. Alternatively help is at hand on-screen from Harvey the rabbit who presents a shorter written version of the rules. Throughout the game children can see how many points they have scored, and can print a bronze, silver or gold achievement certificate at the end.

Puzzle Maths features a lively interface. The introductory screen offers either "the cool stuff", that is the games menu for kids, or "the boring stuff", a selection of useful tools for supervising adults. Through this menu the "oldies" can determine which activities and levels are on offer, find help files and other suggested support activities and websites, and view results for individuals or classes. The report functions show how many attempts the individual or group has made at the game, and the date each level was achieved. However, the software is not particularly network-friendly. Data is shown for each individual computer, though help files offer support for teachers wishing to set up different classes on a shared computer.

One of my frustrations was the lack of written support for using the disk.

Although instructions were easily accessible via the "oldies" menu it was not possible to print them. Some of the activities are a bit short, offering just five questions before moving on. I was also disappointed that one game asks players to identify a shape from a set containing only regular examples. Surely a lost opportunity to focus on one of the main shape strands - their properties - which is more clearly defined through examining irregular shapes.

That said, there are a wide variety of activities available and some such as "pinpoint that number" and "what's next" on Disk 2 make the most of technology to give instant feedback to motivate children and encourage learning.

Gillian Blatherwick is deputy head at Rushey Mead Primary school, Leicester

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