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Choice ≠ Autonomy

[Gail, our Sales Manager, writes her first blog on why giving students choice does not make them autonomous learners.]

It’s a long held belief that giving students choices makes them autonomous learners. Having talked to a school today about the needs of their learners, I’d like to clarify this.

This school teacher had been using the market-leader for ICT-based maths resources for a number of years. He had come to the conclusion that, far from creating autonomous learners, too much choice was doing the opposite.

The software he was using (and 24% of schools in the UK use it) either gives children a choice of games and activities to do, else the teacher can set them work directly. In the first instance, they either do not know what to choose, or default to the easiest choice. In the second instance they are reliant on the teacher.

In using DoodleMaths, children are restricted to two choices: reinforce what has recently been learnt, or learn something new (which is relevant to their individual needs). Children are autonomous because they can choose to do their maths at any time, as much as they like, and see visible improvements in their DoodleMaths Age. The can work independently on content that is exactly matched to their needs. To expect a 7 to 11 year-old to be autonomous to the extent that they know their own learning needs is to expect too much – to the detriment of their progress.

So in future, when challenged that the prescriptive nature of DoodleMaths restricts student autonomy, my answer is simple: autonomy means independence, but independence does not necessarily imply choice – as any parent will know!


P.S. If you’d like to create a classroom of autonomous, independent learners, email me direct on or the rest of the team at and we will set you up with a school trial.

Being a team

(Katya on the importance of fostering a sense of community in the classroom.)

I don’t know about you, but my school experience was a fairly individualistic one. Grades were always a reflection on your ability and your knowledge, and there is a lot of value in giving children a sense of responsibility about their own success. However, I am supremely glad to have gone to a University that encourages teamwork. It’s a skill I needed to develop, and I feel like it has been crucial to my development in the last few years.

Steve Wheeler talks about the ways online groups work together, and why a social aspect is key in getting children to participate in online learning exercises. It’s a very interesting read, as well as the articles he links, because they underline a truth which is one of the foundations of DoodleMaths (and indeed, many of the recent posts on this blog.)

Namely, that play supports and enhances learning.

Playing with friends and teamwork have quite a bit in common. In fact, the only difference is the context in which the words are being used – “play” implies a seemingly pointless activity, while “teamwork” is something that you usually do in the office, if that. However, both activities involve more than one person engaging in an activity to achieve a common goal, and in both cases, there are certain group dynamics at hand.

As we grow older, we start hearing words like “leader” and “mediator”, and businesses spend thousands of pounds on getting their employees trained to work better together; when we’re kids, though, we’re bossy, or meek, or come up with ideas that work for everyone, and those things come about more or less organically.

So why don’t we take advantage of naturally arising group dynamics and have kids work together more in class projects? Why not nurture good practices about working together as a team? Perhaps you can find students that are more advanced in your subject and have them help out their friends? Or maybe have students work on exercises in small groups to encourage knowledge sharing? Not only does this take away the edge of competition (and have some feel bad about not ‘getting it’ straight off the bat,) you are creating an opportunity to help your students build effective relationships beyond simple friendship. And if you need any more proof, check out this article about where the value of a school lies.

Try it out – who knows, 15 years from now, you might be saving your students’ employers a lot of money on training.

How much is “attention” worth to you?

(our intern, Katya, writes on one of the most-undervalued resources there is)

“Paying attention” is a fascinating turn of phrase, and a relevant one, because attention, like every other currency, is one we have a limited supply of. And, as anyone who has been swindled abroad will tell you, it’s very easy to demand more than can be given when you don’t have a concrete measure for it.

A mentor of mine often likes to illustrate students’ attention span like the waves of a roller-coaster (or economic cycles, if you prefer) – there are peaks and troughs, and the educator has to be aware of how these tend to come about, and build their lesson plans accordingly, to maximise on both periods of high and low attention.

I bring this up because, with the demanding national curriculums (recommended, if not strongly encouraged), there is no doubt in my mind that claims on students’ time will become bigger and bigger. It might even become tempting to act as if their attention span is one big plateau, rather than a natural, if dynamic, series of peaks and troughs.

It’s important to remember that play is as, if not more, important to success, as hard study and a strong working ethic. After all, to quote Tony Schwartz from “Manage Your Day-to-Day”, using up energy without a break “is the equivalent of withdrawing funds from a bank account without ever making a deposit. At some point, you go bankrupt.”

As we set out to prepare our lesson plans for this year, let’s keep in mind that our students’ attention is a finite resource – used correctly, it can yield amazing returns, but the way it is used depends on us. Let’s not waste it.

You don’t have to be a Techie to use EdTech

According to this article, using iPads in schools is still a challenge. There are a variety of reasons for that, but one which really stood out to us was the fact that teachers who weren’t used to new technology felt like they would never be able to implement it in the classrooms.

It’s quite the ironic twist – one of the main purposes of new technology is to make life easier for everyone, not give even more privilege to a select audience.

And technologies do make life easier – according to this infographic on the flipped classroom model, enhancing lessons with the use of various multimedia tools has helped students and teachers tremendously. And, something which is relevant for this post, it reports that nearly a half of the teachers using the tool have had more than 16 years of experience in classrooms.

On the whole, the article presents a very positive vision of technologies in the classroom – as a supplement, they can add a lot of value to students’ experience. But how can we empower teachers to use them more?

The first article we link already has a suggestion – meetings where teachers from all levels of expertise talk about their experience and bring new questions to the table. Indeed, we should aim to make technologies accessible and usable by the majority, not just the IT specialists.

To build up on that, though, we propose that you also bring your students’ voices to the table – see how they work best, how they learn best, and try to identify the thing that engages them the most.

After all, it’s not about having the latest fancy innovation in your classroom, or the shiniest new app. It’s about finding the thing that works for everyone and building up on it systematically until you find a successful, flexible process.

The importance of innovation

Chilman-®Mark Wood 040First things first, we are very happy that SETsquared has been named number one in Europe by the University Business Incubator Index, and second in the world. We’ve only been part of it for six months, but we share the pride of many others and hope that this award will be the first of many.

On a bigger scale, it’s events like this that remind us that innovation is important and well-appreciated. Taking something from an idea to a widely implemented tool is not a simple feat, but the key is to persevere, and think about all the worth in what you are doing.

Which brings us to today’s topic – technology in the classroom, and why it’s important to innovate and look for new ways of delivering lessons.

Indeed, the classroom is likely one of the most difficult places to bring innovation, because of the barriers are so high: budget constraints, time constraints, pressures to perform, and the understandable chaos that every change in the lesson plan brings, to name a few. We all have, I think, our own stories to tell about how we wanted to try out something new in class, but couldn’t, because of something outside of our control.

But today, let’s talk instead about all the good things that innovation in the classroom brings, and why it’s worth the effort of pursuing.

  1. We learn best when we are presented with problems to solve. Not even the greatest innovators came up with an idea from the ether. Usually, they started out some sort of problem, or with an existing process that could have been improved. James Dyson wanted a solution to the problem of disposable Hoover bags. He continues to innovate to this day. A new element in the lesson plan could seem like a lot of hassle, but it introduces a new element which would pique students’ interest.

    Speaking of which…

  2. New problems means new ways of solving them. Creative thinking isn’t something that should be taught in universities, or in computing classes. Indeed, children are some of the most creative thinkers there are – just show them a Rorschach drawing and watch the fireworks. What we need to do is encourage that creative thinking in the classroom. Why not by presenting them with something new to work with.
  3. Creative Thinking breeds Independence breeds Confidence. Which usually breeds Leadership. Again, independent learning is not just a special skill to learn at University. (Indeed, by some bizarre coincidence, quite a lot of great innovators and leaders were really poor students.) A lot of the time, we shelve great ideas because we lack the confidence to share them with the world. Whether they bank or not is a different question entirely – trying is what’s most important.

It’s amazing, considering the impact, what a payoff a change could have to a person’s life. There is a lot of discussion about the curriculum at schools, with some very good arguments about what should be taught and whether it can be taught; but we would like to also put the question of how the content can be delivered, because sometimes the how makes all the difference between the should and the can.  

This is how we Doodle. What about you?

Chilman-®Mark Wood 008Things are getting exciting for us at DoodleMaths – the newest versions of the DoodleMaths Primary Maths and DoodleMaths for Schools apps are in the App Store (with new features and accessories designed by some of our top Doodlers); in addition to that, developments of our DoodleMaths for Android app have entered their final stages, and we have started working on some exciting new products which we can’t wait to tell you about!

All in all, it’s a time for celebration, which is why we invite you to show us how you Doodle with our newest photo competition.

#ThisIsHowWeDoodle celebrates all that we love about DoodleMaths – the personalization features (pet character, My Doodles), the accessibility (no WiFi required) and, of course, the fact that it’s such a joy for children to use.

Tweet us your pictures or tag us on Facebook, and add the links in this Rafflecopter, for a chance to win a Kindle Fire HD tablet – just one of the devices on which our app will become available when the Android version hits the stores.

Full terms and conditions below.

Good luck everyone!

Terms and Conditions

  1. The giveaway is open internationally.
  2. A valid entry is one made between 12:00 on the 27/07/2014 and 12:00 on the 12/09/2014
  3. The participant to this competition will be the owner of the Twitter or Facebook account.
  4. Participants must share or tweet their entries using the #ThisIsHowWeDoodle hashtag and the @DoodleMaths handle, or share it with us on Facebook. This is a mandatory requirement.
  5. The entry must feature the DoodleMaths app.
  6. Participants can also gain extra entries once they have fulfilled their mandatory requirement.
  7. The entry must be shared from a valid account, as we will use that to contact the winner
  8. By participating in the contest, entrants agree to have their pictures shared on our DoodleMaths Facebook page and Twitter feed.
  9. Personal data will be used for the purposes of this giveaway only and will not be shared with any third parties. The winners’ entry will be featured in our September newsletter.
  10. Winner will be announced on the 12/09/2014 on Twitter and Facebook.
  11. The winner will receive a Kindle Fire HD tablet.
  12. We will not contact participants with any further communications about DoodleMaths, unless they have specified otherwise, either in writing or by subscribing to our social media channels and newsletter.

Dealing with study tantrums

icon4It’s everyone’s worst nightmare – it’s late, the homework sheet is only half done, study time is eating well into play time, and your child is visibly unhappy. It won’t be too long before they throw the pencil and bellow, at the top of their lungs: “I HATE maths!”

Study tantrums are nothing new. In fact, they’re hardly exclusive to children. We’ve all had days when frustration at our lack of progress makes us want to give up. The reasoning being: “This thing doesn’t respond to my sincere efforts, therefore it’s the thing’s fault.” Experience teaches us when it’s a good time to take a break and when we ought to persevere, so the tantrums become less regular and more self-contained.

But where adults usually have the benefit of hindsight, children do not, and therefore it becomes a lot more difficult to convince them to push through the fatigue and anger. Sometimes, the tantrum sentiment – “I hate maths” – becomes so permanently ingrained, we stop putting in the effort at all and convince ourselves that the subject isn’t worth it.

At DoodleMaths, our main product is an app that personalizes a child’s work program, but the superior value we aim for is fostering a positive attitude towards learning. This post is about some more strategies you can implement to change those attitudes

1. “(T)antrums are seldom about the thing they appear to be about.” – Dianna Wynne Jones

It might be worth asking yourself (and your child) why they find maths so difficult – it’s not necessarily this particular piece of homework which is causing them a problem, but rather the way things are at school. Are they in the right groupings? Are they keeping up with their friends?

2. There’s a reason why we’re learning this, I swear!

People learn differently, and some find it easier when theoretical concepts are related to a real-world example. Money is a fairly straightforward case study, but there’s also measurements in cooking, geometry in architecture, higher maths in engineering and physics, or even rhythmic measures in music, poetry, and song writing.

3. Take 5. Or 50, even.

Sometimes the best thing you can do when you see a child struggling with a problem is to let them take a break. It’s better to enjoy play time and have a go at the problems again in the morning, than go to bed angry. Furthermore, downtime gives you a chance to come up with a different way of explaining the concept later. Which brings us to…

4. The 30 second rule.

If something takes more than 30 seconds to explain to a child, then it’s likely that you’re overcomplicating it or the concept’s too difficult. It might be worth reconsidering your explanation or the level of work set to your child.

5. Learning with confidence.

Tantrums occur when children aren’t given the opportunity to experiment and learn on their own terms. If they’re finding something difficult, let them build their confidence by giving them easier examples.

Finally, it’s important to remember that attitudes are as important to success as serious study and application. Indeed, according to neurologists and psychotherapists like Oliver Sacks and Philippa Perry, we experience the world through our internal “narrative truths” (our own perception) rather than what we refer to as “objective truth.” In that regard, we should take every opportunity to build positive narrative truths and successful problem-solving skills from early on, to keep learning from becoming a chore.    


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