I’m delighted to have been asked by the lovely people at Magical Maths to guest blog a little about the thinking behind DoodleMaths. We very much appreciate the opportunity to write a little bit about our motivation for developing DoodleMaths, and our own personal philosophy on how children learn maths.
A quick introduction: we are a husband and wife team: our backgrounds both lie in maths teaching (cheesy bit: we met in a maths classroom). We wanted to build a maths resource that was purely focused on raising children’s achievement in maths. Right now, if a child is behind in maths and we want to raise their attainment, they are supported through tuition. Even if this is done in groups or outsourced by video-link to India, it is still prohibitively expensive for most schools or parents to access: less than 5% of children ever receive any tuition through school, and only 24% of children receive tuition paid for by their parents at any point. Cost is the by far the most significant barrier to schools and parents entering the tuition market.
So our aim with DoodleMaths was to create an app which mimicked the actions of a good tutor, identifying a child’s level, strengths, weaknesses and the pace at which they learn, and creating a work program specific to their needs. But, as a digital product, offer the benefits of a tutor at a tiny fraction of the cost (£3.99 monthly per child for parents, or £3.99 annually if bought through a school).
First, the work program is very prescriptive, offering very little choice in what children learn next. Our own experience with offering children a range of activities (be it differentiated worksheets in the classroom or mathematical activities on the computer) is that a significant proportion will rarely choose what’s best for them – more likely, they’ll choose what gives them most gratification. Currently, digital maths resources require a parent/child/teacher to select what they do next (parent doesn’t know what they should be doing/child chooses inappropriately/teacher chooses appropriately for the class as a whole but not necessarily for each individual). DoodleMaths selects the work according to what will make the child progress at the most rapid rate. To do this, we’ve written some very funky algorithms to which analyse progress to date to determine when and what will be learnt next.
Second, 75% or more of the work program is based on recap – reviewing what the child has already learned. Children – in fact we all – forget what’s been learned unless it’s regularly practised. As maths teachers we are all familiar with, say, teaching addition of fractions, only to find the bulk of the class have long forgotten about the concept of equivalent fractions that underpins it.
Third, the work program is very much based on learning through doing: children making decisions about maths and trying stuff out. I’ve always had an interest in questioning techniques, and inductive questions in particular, so we keep explanations to a minimum and instead focus on teaching a concepts through a succession of carefully-authored questions which get gradually, incrementally harder.
It’s a system that works. Children are encouraged to use DoodleMaths for about 10 minutes a day. As an app, this is easily achievable: children can use it anywhere, anytime, on or offline, on any touchscreen device. When the app gets a connection, it sends its data to the server for analysis on our teacher and parent dashboards.
I can’t deny it’s been a monumental labour of love: we spent most evenings for a year writing the 10,000 questions and accompanying help sheets that make up our content. But we are proud of what’s been achieved: our success in the App Store, and the positive feedback we get from schools and parents, has helped us secure more funding. This investment will enable us to continue to build DoodleMaths into something that competes with a tutor – but at a price that’s affordable to all.