Chris Drage finds BETT digital delights that harness creativity to engage pupils
With teachers juggling to balance creativity with SATs results and league tables, it’s refreshing to see the software industry continuing to develop stimulating and high-quality resources to help learners acquire mathematical concepts, skills and knowledge.
2Simple’s Maths City 1 and 2, Mathletics from 3P Learning, I am Learning and the yet to be launched SMART Notebook Maths Tools are just four of the ‘stars’ from this year’s crop.
With 2Simple Software’s track record, Maths City 1 and 2 are certain to bring delight and challenges to young learners while providing their teachers with a wonderful addition to the teaching arsenal. Divided into five foundation stage topics – Transport, Space, The Farm, Shops and Outdoor Play – the clever animation and bright graphics of the award winning Maths City 1 (number and calculation) software makes good use of numbers and colours to encourage problem solving, collaborative working, thinking skills and discussion.
This is all done while children are racing and sorting cars, making patterns or parking carefully, counting skips and jumps with animated figures, sorting and counting animals to make a farm, going shopping in the toy shop and learning to pay the correct amount and creating and sorting aliens so that similar features animate.
Also divided into five topics – The Birthday Party, The Building Site, The Fruit Shop, The Shoe Shop and Underwater World – Maths City 2 allows three to five-year-olds to explore the concepts of space, shape, measure and number. Like Maths City 1, many of the activities are differentiated with spoken or sung instructions to promote independent play. Learners are also encouraged to collaborate to solve problems and both titles are ideal for adult-led interactive whiteboard teaching. Teachers can discuss the content with the children and highlight the maths involved.
Learning should always be fun, and with the online-based Mathletics, mathematics will never be dull! Another award winning piece of software, with 3 million fans in 8,000 schools worldwide, and more than 1,000 learning activities, this interactive resource is available for key stages 1-5. Being online means learners and teachers can access it at anytime and anywhere. And students give instant feedback to their teacher about their performances, which allows teachers to modify and personalise curriculum plans to meet individual needs. Meanwhile, the real-time counter of all “mathletes” online and the ‘World Hall of Fame’ that displays the name of the top 100 students and 50 classes in the UK and the leading 50 classes worldwide, including the points, credits and weekly awards earned, provides learners with a wider sense of community and encouragement to strive for better results.
Mathletics is certain to be effective in improving speed and accuracy in mathematics calculations, especially when students compete against teachers! Youngsters say they enjoy both the challenge and competition as confirmed by Michael Ferguson, head of mathematics at The Blue Coat School in Birmingham. He says his learners were instantly “hooked” by the Mathletics website and thrived on the opportunity of competing against pupils from all around the globe. “The Mathletics Hall of Fame offered a great incentive, as did earning certificates and credits, as pupils spent hours glued to their computers, playing mathematical games," he says. "After witnessing the enthusiasm of the pupils, and experiencing a surge of interest in mathematics after the challenge we subscribed to the program.”
SMART's handwriting recognition also works for maths symbols and equations
Although not yet officially released (check at BETT), according to SMART Technologies more than 20,000 educators worldwide have downloaded the Beta version of SMART Notebook Maths Tools. It integrates seamlessly with SMART's whiteboard Notebook software, providing content and a suite of tools for primary, secondary and further education to help teachers demonstrate maths concepts visually by creating, editing or graphing mathematical equations. As well as the equation editor tool to copy, paste and edit equations in a SMART Notebook file, it includes a handwriting recognition feature that identifies handwritten mathematical symbols and equations.
The application also works with Texas Instruments' calculator emulator and computer software enabling the TI calculator software to be launched via SMART Notebook Maths Tools. Already teachers are praising the interactivity of the software and it is definitely one to look out for. Currently available only in English, there are plans for Arabic, French, German and Russian versions in early 2010.
Another online resource which sits neatly in my armoury of resources, and which will help teachers bring back enjoyment and fun into learning, is I am learning. Now modified and improved, boasting enhanced functionality and graphics, it is a highly appealing online games-based revision, homework and assessment system with more than 100 exercises and it appears to have the ideal solution to motivate and engage secondary and primary school learners (Years 4-6).
The primary version has a lot of games-based content (also suitable to prepare students for SATs) while the secondary one offers challenging, topic based questions that can be integrated within a learning platform, or work independently to present engaging, personalised, interactive revision material. Students can now access a ‘My Room’ feature (a personalised and adaptable ‘bedroom’) providing an additional sense of ownership over their learning.
If you intend to visit BETT 2010 be sure to ask about I am learning’s partnership with Sherston Software - a collaboration which should see Sherston license all literacy, numeracy and science bank questions, providing year-specific content with levelled questions, integration of OCR past papers for GCSE preparation and revision.
Don't forget new kid on the BETT block, Mangahigh
It's also worth checking out some relative newcomers too. Mangahigh's lead adviser is Dr Marcus du Sautoy, currently Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science. The company bills itself as creator of "the first curriculum-compliant online maths games for 11 to 16-year-old students", and is launching Mangahigh for Schools which gives access to more than 12,000 quiz-format maths examples that the company says provides "real-time visibility into students’ maths performance".
The Number Gym may have been around for a while but it must be doing something good to make its founder, Melvyn Rust, the winner of the mathematics section of the Pirelli Internet Awards for this primary maths software, earning him a prize of 15,000 Euros. The company features a range of products.
Finally, for those who like their their learning anywhere, anytime and on almost anything, SUMS Online will be showing it own range of maths games and exercises that are now available across a range of computer, learning platfoprm, PDA and games console formats. They will be launching versions for use at home too. And if you can't get to see them at BETT, you can sample them here for free (they have a special BETT offer for Sony PSP software with ConnectED - find out more at Stand N54).
Visitors to BETT 2010 will have the perfect opportunity to see all the above demonstrated and to ask the suppliers all the right ‘difficult’ questions. I just hope that 2010 will bring even more suitable digital tools to suport a creative mathematics curriculum, and thereby spawn more superb software resources across all curriculum subjects.
January 13-16, Olympia, London
You can find stand and contact details below for all the companies featured here, but it's also worth running a 'maths' search on the show website:
2Simple Software – Stand F59
Mathletics – Stand C66
I Am Learning – Stand Q22
Sherston Software – Stand C50
SMART Notebook Maths Tools (SMART Technologies) – Stand G80 and B50
Mangahigh – Stand J60
NumberGym Software - Stand SW03
SUMS Online - Stand A96