Archives For October 2012

We are in the business of building children’s confidence in maths. Children are confident in maths if they can work independently at their maths.

Asking for help is not always the right thing to encourage a child to do. Of course, it is important that a child should feel they can ask for help in a classroom setting – essential. However, when working with children on a 1-to-1 basis, I am often discouraging children from asking for help. This is because, if they are low on maths confidence, they will ask too freely when they don’t actually need it. I know that if they risk failure but then get the answer right, it will build their confidence. If they ask for help and get it right, it will do nothing for their confidence. If they get it wrong, their confidence is still intact because they already knew it was a tricky question. Don’t get me wrong – I am not depriving them of help. But DoodleMaths encourages children to attempt the question for themselves before pressing help.

This is particularly important since DoodleMaths has an unusually high proportion of inductive questions – linking and sorting questions, mainly. Tackled carefully, these will allow the user to induce the answer on their own. These are extremely rewarding questions to attempt and succeed at for a child. And after all, children learn through doing things for themselves far better than by listening to an audio explanation.

If you have a one-to-one maths tutor visiting your house, you will know that they are doing a good job if they are quiet 90% of the time: if they are talking too much, the child will not be developing independence skills that can be transferred back into the classroom. It is also likely that the tutor is making maths seem more complicated than it is, or setting work that is too difficult.

DoodleMaths is a tuition app. Its questions are not fired out randomly: they are carefully selected. The 7/8/9/10-a-day questions are mainly chosen according to the child’s ability, previously learnt concepts, and concepts that require more reinforcement. Our programmer, Leo, nearly had a heart attack when we told him that we wanted to track a child’s performance in all 171 concepts contained in the Key Stage 2 version of the app. But he has managed this, and the information that the app records about a child’s strengths and weaknesses is far greater than any record-keeping I have managed in my various teaching roles. It allows us to make sure each question is pitched at exactly the right level to give the child a fair chance of doing it themselves without asking for help.

But to be able to do this effectively, we need to ensure that an accurate record of a child’s ability is being kept. It is instinctive for parents to try and help their child, especially during the assessment process, but if this happens excessively, children end up with a program that is too hard for them. They are then caught in a spiral of frequently asking for help and rapidly losing confidence. If help is continued to be given at this point, the app has no way of recognising this and self-adjusting, which is why you can do this manually in the Parents’ Pages of the app. Allowing children to get an answer right even if they press the ‘help’ button, which has been suggested, would create similar problems.

This was borne out through the extensive beta-testing of DoodleMaths that we undertook in our education centres. The fact that a child will not get a doodlestar if they press help does not prevent them from pressing help, but they almost always attempt the question first. If they get the question wrong, they are happy to accept that, just as they are happy try to improve their score if they haven’t obtained sufficient in a question set.

In short, what I am saying is that it doesn’t matter if a child gets a question wrong. Children don’t respect false praise and don’t want to be rewarded for stuff they don’t know. I occasionally use a piece of educational software that screams “Excellent!” at the child even if they get 1/10. Unfortunately, once this has happened, every subsequent “Excellent!” is meaningless. The praise element of the software confuses younger students and may as well not exist to the older ones. Children need to know where they stand. Praise needs to be earned. And if we help children when they don’t actually need help, they will never develop into independent learners.

We have a fantastic local village primary school right on our doorstep, and we are fortunate enough that they have taken a great deal of interest in what we are producing. So when it came to testing our product to try and see what kind of improvement it might offer a child with sustained use, it seemed natural to pair with them.

We asked the Headteacher, Mr Stone, to identify students that he felt would benefit from using DoodleMaths for 15 minutes per day over the course of a four week period. A group of six Year 6 students were quickly found and seemed delighted to be given the opportunity to use iPads at school.

Unfortunately for them, the first thing we did with them was administer a written test. To genuinely measure their level of improvement over the four week period we clearly had to use an assessment that was independent of DoodleMaths. We chose to use the Hodder Access Mathematics Tests: these have been standardised over a huge sample size and as well as returning a National Curriculum level, they also return a child’s maths age, much as DoodleMaths’ assessment does.

The children sat the Test A on Friday 28th September at 10.15am. The average Hodder maths age for the sample of six students was 8 years 7.7 months, which equates to a National Curriculum level of 2.9 according to the Hodder handbook.

On Monday 1st October the children did their DoodleMaths assessment. The average DoodleMaths age for the children was 8 years 5.4 months. On Tuesday, they finally started using the iPads for learning.
We are now almost two weeks into the trial. The children are working with so much energy and enthusiasm, they are a credit to themselves and their school. What I am most surprised about is that at the end of the session when they are allowed on games and personalise their pet character, they tend to opt to do another 7/8-a-day. They are enjoying maths now that it is personalised to their needs and ability.

We will be doing Hodder Test B on Friday 26th October with the children, and will post the results that afternoon.

We’re not the only ones who favour a little-and-often approach to teaching maths. In fact, part of the inspiration for DoodleMaths was the “a day” series of books written by A.L. Griffiths in the 1970’s.

I credit this series of books (along with some excellent teachers) with helping to give me a solid grounding in maths when attending Cherry Orchard Junior School, Birmingham, the same decade. These books formed part of the school day: between registration and assembly, every day, we would collect our book and work through the next set of questions. Users of DoodleMaths will see the parallels, I’m sure.

Of course, technology has made a huge difference not just to how these questions are delivered, but also to how they are chosen. When a child selects 7/8/9/10-a-day on DoodleMaths, their set of questions are chosen according to the following criteria:

– to reinforce topics that have been recently learnt
– to reinforce topic areas that the individual needs further practice in
– to review prerequisites to up-coming new topics to be learnt
– to help identify other weak areas.

This means that no two children will ever receive the same set of questions, which makes sense, since no two children are the same.

As a footnote, if any reader knows where we could find a copy of 7 and 8 a day, we’d love to complete our collection!