Snap and Squirt add up

9th January 1998 at 00:00
NEW PRIMARY maths software has received encouraging results in an independent evaluation by Lancaster University, showing that children using the program are making big gains in maths ability. Pupils working on the program developed by RM were found to have an average success rate of 70 to 80 per cent.

The software is a comprehensive integrated learning system (ILS) for maths, covering key stages 1 and 2 and catering to children from four-and-a-half to eleven years. Although similar to SuccessMaker, an American ILS product, this new software is made by a British company and focuses on British methods and curriculum. RM has signed a multi-million pound deal with SuccessMaker's publisher CCC, for the freedom to market its own ILS products in a US-dominated market. Despite evidence of SuccessMaker stimulating learning gains, many educationists are yet to be convinced these systems are cost effective.

One of the key elements concentrates on mental maths, and trial schools have reported improvements in mental fluency as pupils need to retain and remember information because everything is conducted on-screen without the aid of pencil and paper. There is an engaging use of multimedia, with bright colours, animation and cartoon characters to sustain children's involvement. One of the software's strongest features is in the high level of positive reinforcement to build pupils' confidence and motivation.

A friendly and encouraging female voice guides and prompts the user with non-judgemental phrases. If the incorrect answer is given, the question is rephrased to help the pupil. If the child fails to answer the set exercise correctly, that area is flagged and introduced again a month later to see if the problem remains. Each child's results are monitored and recorded in the software's management system which can be accessed by teachers to ascertain the strengths and weaknesses of pupils. It can also print out reports.

For an average class size of 30, pupils are allocated four sessions per week, in 15-minute periods. Children don headphones and become engrossed in the computer-animated scenarios and activities of Squirt the elephant and Snap the crocodile. Pupils are constantly practising and reinforcing a wide variety of core maths skills through the system. It's designed to minimise the incidence of pupils having problems and asking teachers for help, as the voice-over provides support and help with hints as well as audio repeats. The various levels and exercises are finely graded which avoids large leaps in understanding that could become blocks to progress. The product does not allow pupils to change their first answer. You've got one bite of the bullet, with no second guesses allowed.

The program caters to the individual child's abilities, so they can progress at their own rate. At one of the trial schools, Harvills Hawthorn Infants in Birmingham, teacher Laura Grace says: "It really did push them along with their mental ability - especially with children withlittle confidence."

Helen Green, who teaches children who have already used the software for a year, reports that general interest in maths was higher than in classes which had not used the program. She also points out that there is no differentiation in the abilities of boys and girls. Traditionally, maths is seen as a male subject and Helen Green believes the software has helped girls considerably. She feels the software does not help in areas where children need to pick up items such as weights and measures, and also in using rulers and scales to gain the full experience of the concept. This exposes the downside of a computer's virtual reality which lacks the substance and dimensions of the real world.

RM claims that its product is easy to integrate and manage in the classroom. The software starts from zero maths knowledge and initial activities do not demand high competence in mouse skills. For teachers, the system doesn't need significant training to learn - two hours is enough to become proficient.

Having spent millions of pounds in developing the software, which took four years to create, RM has high hopes for its new system (nameless so far). The company is introducing preferential pricing for schools making a substantial investment in their product.

BETT Connection

RM plc stand 131,132, 215, SN22

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