I first came across Newt some months ago. At the time only a cassette version was available and it didn't have a printer option. Now a disc version - with a printer option - and a cassette edition for the Electron are available.
Newt uses the micro as a flexible and accurate drawing instrument. It provides a simple means of drawing on the screen without the need to master a computer language. Unlike Logo (turtle graphic) type packages, it has been designed specifically to illustrate mathematical ideas like translation, rotation, reflection and enlargement and gives opportunities to build up intricate shapes and patterns.
It sets up precise aims and objectives and the comprehensive, well-illustrated handbook presents a series of structured starting points which allow the user to use the powerful commands embodied within it. It starts off well by allowing pupils to come to grips with it through two simple games: "Golf" and "Bridging" - a good idea - and takes them through the various procedures available step by step.
There are some helpful hints: "If you are not sure what instructions to give the computer to get the figure you want, it is a good idea to think what you would tell yourself to do if you wanted to walk round the shape you want. If necessary, get up and actually walk - what angle do you turn through, how many steps do you take, what do you do next?" but most important of all, "...it is more important that you should use it to follow your own ideas rather than pursue the selection of activities presented here."
Some particularly interesting commands in the package are:
LS - allows for a series of lines to be drawn which change regularly in direction and/or length.
SK (Slide & Keep) - allows the production of multiple copies of an image distanced from one another.
TK (Turn & Keep) - which can be used to rotate shapes around a fixed point.
R (Reflect & Keep) - allows for mirror images and repeated reflections. This command is very powerful and could lead into quite deep "geometric waters" and has, I think, been well thought out.
More powerful instructions guide the pupil through exploring the effects of displacement and enlargements and the updated version, Newt 3, offers among others the facilities to save drawings which consist of one or more figures, call up co-ordinates of any part of a shape, or clear the screen to leave only wanted lines. The more imaginative user will enjoy using the repeated turn facility to produce an animated figure - "See if you can draw a pin man and get him to jump into the air and land on his head!"
One colleague I asked to try out the program said that he believed the section on tesselations needed some further explanation as the examples illustrated are fairly complex. He thought he'd found a major bug in the example on page 24 of the handbook until he realised that that "Key in data overleaf" applied to the previous page not the following one!
This is a very powerful tool for maths teachers - particularly at top middle and secondary school level. As well as helping children to work individually at the challenges - a godsend for the young gifted mathematician, colleagues will find many of the procedures useful if they use the computer and VDU as an electronic blackboard. I'm sure I'd have understood geometry far better if I'd been able to use this program rather than the copying out and rote learning of all those theorems!
I'd have liked to seen a colour facility in the program but I suppose that could have been achieved only by cutting the memory space for the 1000 points and/of 200 figures the program allows.
So, if you want to challenge your youngsters - at home or school - this is a program well worth giving a try. Outside East Anglia it is available through ESM.