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With the announcement of this year’s Pupil Premium Awards finalists this week, it’s been wonderful to see all the different ways this funding can have a real impact on a student’s life. We’d like to say a big well done to all the schools who have been shortlisted! You can see the list here.

Inspired by the creativity of teachers, we wanted to share with you how some schools have put Pupil Premium to work:

  • Buying PE kit and a pair of trainers for a student to enable her to take part in after-school sports clubs
  • Free breakfast club to make sure children would start the day with healthy, full stomachs
  • Lending a bike to a student who was always late to enable him to get into school on time

 

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We’d love to hear your stories and ideas on how Pupil Premium can be used to make a difference in a pupil’s life in the comments below!

P.S. Did you know that Pupil Premium funding can be used to buy DoodleMaths licenses for your school?

‘Practice makes perfect!’ It must be one of the most irritating things that was said to me as a child. But, in my view, never has an idiom been so true.

I know of a CEO who has a golf lesson every fortnight with a top coach. He pays almost £200 per hour. He hasn’t improved his handicap at all over the last year. Why? Because between his lessons, he couldn’t find time to practice.

The same with the numerous kids who have piano lessons every week. The ones who move through the grades aren’t the ones who have the best teachers. It’s not necessarily even the most gifted. It’s the ones who put in their daily practice.

Our experience as teachers and educators has taught us that the quality of practice in maths is far more important to the learning process than the quality of explanation. However elegantly explained, a concept will not be remembered unless it is practised sufficiently. Kids learn through doing.

We define good quality practice as being regular (ideally daily), engaging (touchscreens helps here!) and at the level most appropriate for the individual. The latter is vital – most children, when faced with a choice of tasks, will choose not what is most appropriate for them, but what will give them the highest reward for the minimum effort.

When it comes to the core basics of maths, regular practice is the absolute key to improvement. We can tinker with the Framework and the National Curriculum; we can try to employ the best graduates as teachers. But the simplest way to raise standards in maths would be to give children more opportunities to practice. In the UK’s quest to understand why Shanghai leads the way on the PISA tables, this has been one of the key findings: children in Shanghai spend more hours doing maths on a weekly basis than their counterparts in the UK.

A final warning: as with anything, if you don’t practice at all, you actually get worse at maths. Children regress more in maths than any other subject over the summer break – mainly because opportunities to practice are not so obviously available in everyday life as with reading and writing. Seeking out those opportunities, be it puzzle books, sudoko or DoodleMaths, is a great way to reverse this drop.

Many schools are introducing iPads, or other tablets, into the classroom. They’re popular with parents (and especially prospective parents). There’s undoubtedly a media buzz around what is still considered new technology. The potential benefits are becoming more and more apparent, both educationally and arguably financially, with ESSA Academy reporting an annual saving of £65K on photocopying budget following their introduction. The US is leading the way, with 4.5 million iPads sold into education institutions so far, and Los Angeles recently penning a deal with Apple to provide iPads for every one of 600,000+ students within the next year. But if they’re not introduced effectively, it can be a huge waste of money.

We have worked with a number of schools in the last year who have introduced, or are at the point of introducing, iPads. So in the spirit of sharing best practice, here’s a summary of what we believe works and doesn’t work:

  • Appoint the right person to oversee the introduction to iPads: someone who will embrace the opportunity and become ambassadors for the technology. The success of their use at Cedar’s School of Excellence, Greenock can be largely put down to the commitment of Fraser Speirs, Head of IT, in his commitment to their implementation. Without the right person, you may find them gathering dust.
  • Pilot with a few iPads, perhaps a one-third class set or a half set. A one-to-one program is a nice ideal, but perhaps bring-your-own-device will be more realistic by the time you are at that stage.
  • Are you sure you want iPads? The Kindle Fire is a reasonably-priced alternative, with the Amazon App Store working hard to develop educational content. Little fingers can work equally-well on an iPad Mini, too.
  •  Think about how to use them across the curriculum. There are many good subject-specific apps, but equally focus on non-subject specific and be creative in their use. The iPad is a Swiss-army knife of tools waiting to be unlocked. The camera can be used to snap artwork at various stages in the creative process. Experiments can be videoed. And these can be imported into a document in an instant. Combine with Apple TV: teachers or students can display their work, annotate it, work through step-by-step, and display to the rest of the class. Communicate: apps like Socrative allow teachers to quiz their students; it automatically collates their responses. Research the Internet – use a safe internet browser such as Browser for Kids to monitor content.
  • Of the good subject-specific apps, view these as supplementing and enhancing your teaching practice, and don’t slip into replacing your teaching with an app. Avoid apps which replicate worksheets – an expensive and inferior solution in many cases. Seek out subject-specific apps that can offer something beyond your usual teaching, be it a vast amount of content,  (Life and Death in Pompeii, for example), high levels of interactivity (try Solar Walk), or real-time monitoring of each individuals’ progress (like our very own DoodleMaths for Schools).
  • And apps are not just for students, either: great teacher planning apps – such as iDoceo – can enhance record-keeping, too.
  • Practicalities: you’ll need school-wide wi-fi, internet security, iPad cases and a secure stowage unit. Number each device. Each device should have its own Apple ID. And tablets are designed for personal use – sharing an iPad between two for an activity just doesn’t work.
  • Finally, don’t see iPads as entirely replacing PCs. They still have their role in the classroom. But for integrating technology directly into everyday lessons, the tablet is going to play a huge role.

I’m interested in any comments on this one!

Pile of TextbooksHugely outdated. It seems almost bizarre that most schools still issue them.

  1. Text books are heavy
  2. Text books don’t motivate
  3. Text books can’t mark your work or analyse your performance
  4. Text books can’t give feedback to the user
  5. They are one-size fits all – use them as a resource with a class, and the only way you can differentiate is by question number
  6. They’re expensive
  7. They get damaged
  8. They are an administrative nightmare to issue and collect in. They often get lost and are not returned
  9. They are made from trees
  10. They are boring.

It’s time that schools are funded to move on from this limited, awkward and anachronistic learning resource.

We have made some major changes to our new version of DoodleMaths. These changes have been so wholesale that we have had to release it as an entirely new app. So why go to the effort and expense of making these changes when we already had a perfectly decent product?

Here are the changes, then you can judge for yourself if it has been worth it!

  1. Let’s start with the obvious: it’s now a universal app. This means it auto-adjusts according to the device so that it looks great on all Apple devices. Now DoodleMaths appears in both the iPhone and iPad sections of the App Store. This is a much better fit for our market: consumers are looking for serious maths apps on their iPads and, generally speaking, expecting to find more trivial apps in the iPhone section of the App Store. Our modest sales so far have been almost entirely as a result of word of mouth: hopefully now we will appeal to far greater sections of Apple devotees.
  2. Upgraded the content. We have made huge changes to the database of questions. Over 1000 questions have been added; over 100 questions that contained glitches have been rewritten; harder modules have been split into two or more easier modules where perhaps the level of challenge was too great; explanation screens have been made considerably clearer. For this we will be eternally grateful to a handful of early adopters (Clare, Maggs, thank you!) whose children have fortunately been addicted to the app and have communicated with us regularly about their progress.
  3. We’ve made significant changes to the feedback algorithms. These are the formulae which analyse the work done so far and use this data to determine what comes next in the work program. For example, we now track your child’s accuracy on every single topic area: where accuracy is low, these topics get fed back into your child’s 7/8/9/10-a-day until the accuracy improves. If accuracy drops too low, they learn the topic again via their New this Week, or even learn any prerequisite topics that are required. Whilst these improvements won’t be immediately obvious, from an educational perspective they are hugely beneficial.
  4. Motivational Features: Your child’s ‘Back Pages’ now contains a section called ‘My Doodles’. This allows children to create their own doodles which then appear intermittently in the background of their questions: the idea is to provide them with the incentive of seeing their work in the body of the app.
  5. Multi-user capability: this was one of the key features requested by users, and will also mean that the app will be more appealing to schools who have a few iPads but do not have a 1-to-1 program yet.
  6. Siri compatability: we are fortunate that Nicola is both a teacher and a budding voice-over artist, which allowed us to record the explanations for those with literacy difficulties. But we were never going to be able to do voice-over for all the questions. We have now coded the question text so that it can be highlighted and read out, and this is our first step towards embedding Siri fully into the app.

Other than that, we have ironed out a few minor glitches (the never-ending problems with the email facility have been resolved) and prepared the app so the new content can be loaded more easily (an KS3 version and a US version are in the pipeline.)

When we first released in August last year, we were confident that we had the best tool for learning maths in the App Store. Unfortunately, we were surprised by how little people trusted apps, and whilst apps are popular, people usually expect them to be free – hopefully our compatibility with the iPad addresses this. However, I do think that this reflects the fact that learning apps (with a few exceptions) are still pretty low quality in comparison to the web-based competition. We are confident that native apps can provide a platform for a far more interactive, engaging and safe learning experience than the web, and we will continue to develop and improve DoodleMaths over the coming years in the hope and belief that those pioneers who agree with us will successfully persuade the majority. Spread the word!