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Posts from the ‘Project’ Category



“Furbles are the shape of things to come: this software is technology at its best and well worth the money.” John Dabell, TES Magazine

Launch ’08 Furbles Demo



Furbles started life as an idea for teaching statistics in an interesting way with children from KS1 to KS3. The original version was published in 2003 online, and its popularity spread. It has been downloaded and used over 20,000 times in the last five years. In 2006 Sherston Software commissioned me to write a commercial version. This was published in January 2007. Furbles received extremely good reviews from reputable teaching bodies, such as the Association of Teachers of Mathematics.

Furbles was originally devised as an innovative way of imagining statistics and the depiction of statistics. As a trainee teacher there seemed to be a clear difference between students’ ability to interpret graphs and their ability to generate graphs. My interpretation of this difference was that students were learning to create graphs algorithmically, but were not taking time to consider what the graphs actually represented; they did not see how a graph expressed an internal relationship within the data. The idea of Furbles was to bring the graphs and the data that they represented together in a very fundamental way.

Launch ’03 Furbles Original


Part of the idea of Furbles was also to encourage teachers to take a fresh look at how to teach the subjects. Rather than offering a large amount of content to place students in front of and a mechanism for recording their performance (though it had some of that too), Furbles offered the teacher a platform for their imagination to find new questions and problems within a framework which had charm and fun.


This model of a Furble (right) from Ferndown Middle School is a wonderful example of some work that lead from Furbles at a primary school. If you have other examples of work based on Furbles, I’d love to see them and share them here, so please contact me.

Sherston Software

If you are interested in purchasing the 2008 commercial version, then please visit the Sherston Software website. I no longer have any stake in the commercial version, and cannot sell a version to you or broker with them for a version under any circumstances!

The original version and the demo version of the full explore mode will remain be available for free on this website for the foreseeable future.





Primitives represents numbers in terms of their prime factors, offering unusual insights into their structure. Numbers are presented as nested sets of small black dots. Three is presented as a blue circle enclosing three dots; a ‘set of three’. Six is presented as a set of three sets of two dots, or as a set of two sets of three dots.

Launch Primitives


When a number has many different prime factors, such as 30 = 3·2·5, the factors can be rearranged to offer different images of the same number.

Primitives is tailored for classroom use and perfectly suited for use with an interactive whiteboard. Hopefully older primary students and secondary students will find this application interesting.

Primitives is companion software to an article published in March 2008’s Mathematics Teacher Magazine.



Posters based on the Primitives software are now available from the ATM online shop.

Grid primitives combines the ‘Primitive’ visualisations with the Sieve of Eratosthenes. The Primitive visualisations of the first 42 numbers are arranged into a six column grid that is often used when finding prime numbers by elimination using the Sieve of Eratosthenes algorithm. Click on the image or here for a larger image.

The visualisations are reduced in size to conform to the size of the grid, and behind them the pattern of multiples of 2, 3, 5 and 7 are each highlighted in the colour corresponding to the respective prime number. The prime numbers are particularly highlighted by an 11-pointed star behind each one.

The choice of a six column structure may lead students to question why after the bottom row, primes only appear in the first and fifth columns, or to put it mathematically, why all primes other than 2 and 3 are in the pattern 6n±1, where n is a positive integer, but that not all such numbers are prime. In each column, 25 and 35 disrupt the apparent pattern of primes. Studying this may lead students to futher questions about prime numbers for further study.

Bird Idol


Bird Idol

Bird Idol is an interactive song building program that was designed by Dr Karen Spencer (University of St Andrews) and Dr George Lovell (University of St Andrews). The game allows you to build a song out of 9 different sub-units (also called syllables) and pretend you are a male bird. These syllables have been recorded from real birds and players get the chance to construct a real canary song. Players can compete against one another for the affections of a female canary. In order to win the player must choose a song that best attracts the female. This can be achieved by choosing song characteristics that reveal the quality of the male, specifically, a selection of syllables that are complex and energetically demanding to perform.

Launch ’08 Bird Idol


This program was designed to introduce the basic concepts of pitch, frequency and song complexity to younger students. Older students have found this useful in understanding the ideas behind sexual selection and the evolution of mate choice. It is aimed at students and teachers alike, and was showcased at the Charles Darwin Award Lecture given by Dr Spencer as part of the British Association for the Advancement of Science’s National Festival of Science in York (9th – 15th September 2007).

Bird Idol was featured on BBC Radio 4’s The Material World on 13th September. Ahead of her lecture, Dr Spencer spoke to Quentin Cooper about her research, and played Bird Idol to illustrate the point!

The implementation added rich graphical content, animation, and an interactive interface design in a fun and lively way, in order to capture and retain students’ attention and to add humour.

Instructions for Use

A set of simple instructions are availble in PDF format in the Bird Idol Instruction Manual. These include both a getting started guide and some clues as to how to maximise your male canary sexiness!

Downloadable Version

If you foresee situations in which you may want to use Bird Idol in a situation where there is no internet connection, then you can download the AIR version.

If you have never installed an AIR application before, you will need to first install the Adobe AIR Platform. This only needs to be done once for all Adobe AIR applications. Once the the AIR platform is installed, you can open the downloaded file BirdIdol.air, and you will then be presented with the dialog on the right.

At the time of publishing, Adobe AIR was extremely new and publishers could not be ‘verified’. When installing, Adobe AIR warns users that the application may access your internet or hard drive. I can assure you that Bird Idol does neither.