Space - does it all add up?

9th January 1998 at 00:00
THE RANGE of good mathematics software continues to expand. The past year has seen some excellent new material, usually on CD-Rom, with high quality graphics, good presentation and sound - although I am tempted to give my highest recommendations to those that don't contain that awful synthesised soft-rock background music.

Much of the new software designed for teaching or practice, rather than for revision, is based on space exploration. Planet Number from LMU tries to interest low-achieving pupils at key stage 4 by challenging them to save the galaxy from impending disaster by solving mathematical problems. Maths Explorer from YITM is designed for key stage 2 pupils and has excellent sound and graphics on the space theme. CUC also taps into the vogue and uses an imaginary creature - ADI - to guide pupils aged seven to 15 through lessons in maths and English. The company also intends to set up a virtual classroom on the Internet to teach the material. Maths Invaders from ABLAC continues the theme, with pupils having to repair the space ship Pythagoras, and are forced to learn and practice their maths skills because the computer, Calculus, is malfunctioning.

Some of the new packages clearly have one eye on the home computer market, hoping to lure anxious parents into compensating for perceived deficiencies in schools. For both uses, there are GCSE tutorial and revision programs. However, many are poor. Longman Logotron's Inside Track and Acacia's Revise Mathematics stand out; both are well-designed and easy to use.

At BETT '98, Caves will be launching a CD-Rom version of its successful Maths Tuition Software, which combines audio tutorials with practice sessions. Aircom will be at the show for the first time, presenting its GCSE course on CD-Rom. A brief look at this material suggests it is worth investigating.

Programs which use past examination papers to help guide students include the impressive Interactive Past Papers from Lander. For teachers who wish to set their own tests using material from past papers, Helix has brought out new versions of its useful ExamPro package which cover key stage 2 and 3 assessments. And for use across the age range, for reinforcement and revision, Polydron's Maths Dictionary on CD-Rom is excellent.

But it is not only software on CD-Rom that is worth considering. Content matters much more than presentation, after all. Equation from Equation Software is a small but elegant program which deals with algebra very well. Smile continues to revise for Windows its excellent, widely used software, and has improved several of the programs in the pack on movement that deal with vectors and visualisation of movement.

Sounds are being used imaginatively to help young learners and those with special needs. Talking Calculator from Wyddfa is just that, but with an attractive representation of numbers too. It is available in English or Welsh. Semerc offers Talking Maths Book in two programs which simulate a child's exercise book, right down to the squared paper, eraser and teacher's comments.

BETT Connections

ABLAC stand 345

Aircom stand 504

CAVES stand 578

CUC stand 469

Equation stand C42

Helix stand 120

Polydron stand 619

SEMERC stands SN1, SN42

Smile stand C94B

Wyddfa stand C108

Planet Number, CD-Roms for PC, Pounds 49.95, from Learning Methods Unit, Aquinas Building, 98 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool L3 5UZ Interactive Past Papers, CD-Roms Pounds 39.99, from Lander Software, 1 Atlantic Quay, Broomielaw, Glasgow G2 8JE

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