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Abacus: The Zone
Abacus Maths has been in the Premier League of maths programmes and resources for years. It’s carved out a reputation for itself as the Man Utd of maths schemes and deservedly so given its pedigree of writing and expertise. It’s a team that’s hard to beat when it comes to structured planning, teaching, assessment and innovation. It also has a wide following. I have been using Abacus Maths for years and I remember it being the first real maths scheme that had any impact on my teaching and thinking, even if it can be overly-prescriptive.
So, what’s new? Well you might want to take advantage of a free 60 day trial of The Zone. It’s a website well worth getting into. The Zone is full of cracking games and lively activities to support your maths teaching and help children practise, embed and rehearse a range of maths facts through speaking and listening and problem solving. This is my kind of online bank and children will love it and be challenged by it.
The Zone is very easy to navigate. The School Admin section and My Class follow the same format as Bug Club – another online resource from Pearson - and makes the organisational side of things a breeze. There are video tutorials to show you what to do, so getting in a flap is unlikely. Classroom management has never been easier – creating classes with mixed year groups, moving pupils from one group or class to another, sharing classes with a colleague and adding pupils is pretty simple using The Zone.
The Classroom Games activities on offer are split into speaking and listening and problem solving; both are designed to jump-start discussion and fuel maths conversations with the aim of helping children solve problems through collaborative strategy sharing. The problem-solving activities are open ended in flavour and come with BBC Active video clips which explore maths problems in real contexts. The clips and associated maths activities work really well together and are a great real-life combination which is refreshing to see. The clips are certainly not patronising and are taken from a terrifically broad spectrum of inspiring sources adding real credibility and relevance to the maths world we live in. Amongst the clips I found most fascinating were a Y3 one about mazes from The Culture Show, a Y4 clip from Blue Peter about radio-controlled cars, and a Y6 clip about code-cracking from The One Show.
There are stacks of content-rich activities to choose from and I think the level of challenge and difficulty is appropriate for each age group with clear and well-thought out differentiation within levels. The games are certainly colourful and vibrant and they have a dynamic and fresh feel to them. They have also been extremely well constructed and programmed. Anything that is clear, uncluttered and focuses attention on the maths that matters gets my vote. You can allocate five games to a pupil’s homepage and have another 10 ready and waiting.
The Teacher Notes that go with the games and activities are top-notch and contain bundles of guidance about what to watch out for, tips for getting started, preliminary activities, digging deeper questions, varying problems, strategies, reviewing and reflecting, support, extension, accompanying activities cross-curriculum links.
The audible element of online games can be a bugbear for some because although they can add atmosphere and excitement, they can also be enough of a distraction to take the focus away from the maths in hand. So, it’s good to see the option of ‘on’ and ‘off’ for sound, voice and music.
Get in the zone
The Zone matches the curriculum, is accessible, inclusive and engaging, and provides flexibility to the teacher. That’s not bad going. It also represents excellent value for money and can be purchased as an annual subscription at £75 per year group (Y1-6). I think compared to the price of some books and DVDs, The Zone is a great price for a great product. My recommendation is get into The Zone for free, use it as often as you can, and assess for yourself. My guess is you’d miss it after 60 days. Abacus set the bar to a high standard when they first started and they continue to do so today. Three cheers.