Easiteach Maths proves to be a fascinating development in whole-class teaching using interactive whiteboards, as Ian Wilson reports.
THE INTRODUCTION of the National Numeracy Strategy has meant that whole-class teaching now has a much higher profile, particularly in primary schools. Whiteboards, chalkboards and overhead projectors are all being used to help in this teaching. But wouldn't it be useful if there were some way of preparing and then delivering lessons on a PC with an easy-to-use program? A program which, in effect, mimics a whiteboard and can be projected for class use.
Enter Easiteach Maths, one of the most interesting developments I have seen this year. It has been specially designed for whole-class teaching, and works especially well with interactive whiteboards, although it can also be used with large monitors, plasma boards or a large TV screen connected to the PC. It marks a radical new departure for RM since Easiteach will be distributed over the Web (although the teaching tool will initially be supplied on CD-Rom) for an annual subscription based on the size of the school rather than the number of PCs.
The subscription not only delivers the teaching tool itself, but also an online content-service that allows you to download teaching activities to run using the program. RM is joining with an educational publisher who will provide some of the teaching activities. The subscription will also cover the program's use at home by teachers preparing lessons. Easiteach has been developed with the help of several primary schools and of a teacher seconded for one day per week. Karen Simeons, product manager at RM, is keen to continue this process by establishing development partnerships with LEAs and Education Action Zones who will advise on content and delivery.
When you open the program, you are presented with a simple interface which has a large whiteboard screen and toolbars and buttons along three sides. Many of these have "fly-out" menus offering you further options. The buttons provide ready-made number tools such as number lines, number grids and place value cards. The number lines cover several ranges or you can specify the start, end and number of steps. You can drag the line to wherever you wish and then drag numbers off and on to the line.
Number grids can be similarly manipulated and, by using the painting tools, you can colour in squares on the grid to illustrate multiples, primes and so on. The place value cards allow you to drag, say, 300, 40 and 7 from the card on to the screen, then stack them on top of each ther to form the number 347. This number can now be treated as one object or can be broken down again into its constituents. Clicking a fraction button produces a selection of fractions, and again, you can define your own. Another button causes a "function machine" to be placed on the screen. You set the function, using one of the four rules (eg add seven) then drag a number or fraction to the left hand side of the machine. With much flashing of lights and sound effects the number is transformed on the right hand side. You can add lines, arrows, and simple shapes in a selection of colours by means of the drawing tools provided.
A set of buttons allowing you to load and save programs, clean the screen or print it out can be pulled down from the top of the screen. It is also possible to operate the program using the keyboard and mouse of your PC, but for use in the classroom you might find it easier to invest in a drawing tablet or similar input device which operates by infra-red, so that you can move around more freely.
Along the bottom of the screen is a set of objects that can be dragged on to the whiteboard area. The default set is a collection of digits and symbols, but the program also includes other collections such as toys, animals, shapes, money and flags. Each of these objects can be changed to one of three sizes, and can be combined with other objects. For example, you could place a toy on the screen, attach a price tag to it and then write a price on the tag. This priced toy can then be manipulated as one object. Up to six "pages" of screens can be used at once, so you should not have too much trouble finding enough room to incorporate your ideas and those of the children.
RM intends to develop Easiteach in other curriculum areas. It will be fascinating to see how the content for the maths version develops over the next year. Since the program is so easy to use, I can foresee teachers writing and sharing lessons as well as downloading commercially prepared content. As Russell Prue of RM says: "This is not about technology per se - it's about giving teachers the ability to use it in the classroom".
Easiteach Maths from RMMaths curriculum software for whole-class teaching using an interactive whiteboard, pound;225 for schools of up to 100 pupils, Annual subscription pound;295 for schools of 100-199 pupils, pound;395 otherwise (can also be used on PCs and plasma boards). Tel: 0870 9086868
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