Soft options;Hands on

15th October 1999 at 01:00
Roger Frost picks the best educational software releases.

Someone has stolen all the numbers in town, and in Number Works (a CD-Rom of maths exercises) an old factory must be made to work again. Which is where you come in.

In the factory are 21 broken number machines that are making a mess of multiplying or churning out numbers in the wrong order. The pupils' job is to fix them so they generate the right answers.

That they've a big job ahead mending the machines is one measure of what turns out to be a good-value title. Aimed at Year 3 and suiting ages seven to nine, the exercises are set on three levels (floors) of the factory.

Another mark of a good school title is that the program lets pupils put the story aside and choose to fix the number machine from a task menu. Throw in the photocopiable worksheets and this title shows every sign of being a pretty special piece of software.

The Number Works

Price: pound;49.95

Sherston Software

Tel: 01666 843200

All About Shape And Space (age 5-7) is very on-task. It offers exercises in which children look for shapes in a scene, trace paths or create a picture.

With so many things to do there is a good chance of finding something with which to practice classwork - there are exercises where pupils have to: find the right angles in a shape; give directions; print out nets; and make patterns. Couple these with its exercises in Venn sorts and Carroll sorts and the result is a broad sweep of topics.

Better still, the program's use of voice prompts throughout means even pre-school children shouldn't struggle when using it.

All About Shape And Space

Price: pound;49

Granada Learning

Tel: 0161 827 2887

Anything that can help pupils through their exams has got to be worth a look. And as it turns out GCSE Bitesize Revision - Maths isn't just anything. Instead, this combination of website, TV series and books is a tour de force that distinguishes itself from most similar packages before it.

Now with a CD-Rom carrying the same branding, GCSE Bitesize Revision - Maths is as multimedia as it gets. The CD helps to drive along revision work with various features. For example, a voice tells pupils what to do and when they've revised for a pre-determined length of time.

Pupils work through mini-sections, called "bites", that take just a few minutes. They might read about triangles, then move the mouse over diagrams that will light up to show which side is the hypotenuse. They can follow this with a question to test they have understood the bite.

It is also packed with nifty features like spot tests on a range of topics, check questions, printable exam papers and a progress chart. To be sure, you can preview the bite-style of facts and questions on the website. But this is well-aimed - I expected a website on a CD-Rom but instead found a fun and impressive piece of software.

GCSE Bitesize Revision - Maths

Price: pound;19.99

BBC Worldwide

Tel: 01795 414715

Those on to advanced maths can enjoy the brainstorming power of the ultimate maths tool. Mathsoft's Mathcad Professional (age 16+) is a package that lets you produce maths models, solve problems and then some.

Like a word processor the program starts with a blank page, but here you work through a problem by typing equations and setting values. Then, like a spreadsheet when you change a variable, you can watch the program redraw a graph. Unlike either, Mathcad provides a sheet where the algebra is alive, much like a page of a maths textbook that you can edit and watch recalculate.

As you would expect from a professional package, all kinds of statistics, curve fitting and graphs are here, and it provides an intriguing taste of how tomorrow's maths might be taught.

Mathcad, here at version 8, is a feature-packed package that gives mathematicians and engineers all they need. Mind you, it comes with a price to match. A solution might be Mathsoft's much simplified edition, Studyworks. Costing far less - and with scaled down Mathcad features - it still alludes to much of the Mathcad's power and has much to recommend it to students.

Mathsoft's Mathcad Professional

Price: pound;395+Vat

Mathsoft's Studyworks

Price: pound;26+VAT

Adept Scientific plc

Tel: 01462 480055

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