Archives For August 2014

Choice ≠ Autonomy

August 28, 2014 — 1 Comment

[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

August 25, 2014 — 1 Comment

(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.

(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.

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.

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.