The Numeracy Strategy is upon us and there's a risk that dyslexics and pupils with learning difficulties may get left behind in the initial efforts to implement a highly prescriptive programme in a subject which causes great anxiety in many teachers.
How can software help? Although there are many programmes for numeracy, the potential of the computer as an interactive, multisensory tool is waiting to be exploited fully.
We know from research that a learner's first experience of a new topic is the dominant memory. If you learn a procedure or fact incorrectly the first time, that's what you'll remember.
The interactive capacity of the computer can be used to ensure that the first reaction is the right one.
Software can be designed to be entertaining and visually stimulating and introduce maths tangentially. However, as with reading material, if the content is at a lower age level, then the presentation can be very age specific.
An older learner who wants to relearn some basic numeracy doesn't want dancing clowns on screen.
Well-designed software should allow pupils to work independently. It's important they can move around the programme easily; the voice output is clear and the programme is as multisensory as possible.
Many dyslexics find screen design cluttered. Learners are very individual; a design feature which can be an appealing first experience can become very irritating if it cannot be by-passed on later attempts.
Learning often involves risk taking. When dyslexic pupils evaluate a problem and predict failure, they may take steps to avoid getting involved.
A computer can be less judgmental and may well encourage more risk taking and more involvement in the learning process.
Software check list * Is the program just a book on screen?
* Is the design cluttered?
* Is there mathematical structure, or is the software just drill and kill?
* Does it have voice output?
* How does it motivate: success andor entertainment?
* Is it age specific in design?
* Does it address more than one way of learning?
* Is it good value for money?
* Can the learner use it independently?
* Does it have a record keeping system?
* Can the programme be individualised andor teacher controlled?
* Does it include assessment andor diagnostic features?
* Is it judgmental, does it make unrealistic demands of the user?
Steve Chinn is principal of Mark College, a Beacon school, Somerset, and author of the CD-Rom What to do when you can't learn the times tables. Markco. pound;29.99
SIX OF THE BEST:
* Maths Blaster: 6-9 years. Cendant Software pound;19.99 Win-Mac CD.
The context is a space mission to rescue Spot. Content is based on the four operations, fractions, decimals, percentages, estimation, problem solving and number patterns. There are six levels of difficulty. Reading skills are not needed.
* Treasure Math Storm. 5-9 years. The Learning Company pound;19.99. Win CD.
Although for 5 to 9 years, my year 7 and 8 pupils enjoy using this programme. Good graphics. There are six levels of difficulty which automatically adjust to the user's abilities.
* Maths Workshop. 6-10 years. Broderbund. pound;29.99 Win-Mac.
Basic numeracy skills, plus shape and space and a predictive problem. Entertaining "reward graphics" (I love the gorilla).
Mental Arithmetic. 1010 pound;14.99 Win CD.
* Mental arithmetic is an area where dyslexic pupils need a lot of low stress practice. This CD offers good graphics and games.
* Number Shark. White Space pound;58.99 Win CD Some 30 games with very sound mathematical structure (based on Mahesh Sharma's work). Precise control of levels of numeracy. Graphics are a little basic.
* MicroSMILE for Windows. Smile Mathematics pound;22 to pound;49.50. Win floppy (single user licence) Nine packs of programmes with clear screen design. Sound mathematical structure, but the rewards are a little tame.