Maths — No Problem! and the Digital Future
A lot of people have asked me recently about what the Digital Future means for Maths — No Problem! I’ve been working at the crossroads of publishing and technology for the better part of three decades, so this topic is close to my heart. I’ll be discussing our plans around the Digital Future in more detail at our upcoming 25 May Conference in Manchester, but I thought I’d offer a preview here.
To paraphrase my friend Dr Yeap Ban Har — the legendary trainer and maths mastery pioneer — “Whether it’s a notepad or an iPad, it’s still mastery.” In other words, no matter what technological changes we choose to adopt, the principles of mastery still apply.
And our goal at Maths — No Problem! remains the same now as it was back in 2007, when I first set out to learn about mastery so that I could help my daughter Anthea overcome her maths anxiety.
The core motivation behind everything we do at Maths — No Problem! is to give every child in the world the same chance Anthea had: to overcome maths anxiety and become a confident mathematician. There’s nothing I hate more than hearing the sound of a door closing on the future because a child thinks he or she is bad at maths.
Transformational technology and maths skills for the future
Given all of the challenges in the education system, we’re at the point where we urgently need to answer a couple of fundamental questions:
- How can we equip children today with the maths skills they’ll need to solve tomorrow's problems?
- How can we use technology to make a transformational impact on learning?
Creators get excited about new technological advancements. They devise a cool solution, then go in search of a problem. They try to apply a tool to children’s learning behaviours, as if you could write an algorithm to figure out what’s going on inside a child’s head. This approach vastly oversimplifies the learning experience.
That’s why we need to start thinking less about EdTech and more about PedTech. Dr Fiona Aubrey-Smith, an award-winning teacher and Director of One Life Learning, was our guest on episode 87 of the School of School podcast. She says, and I agree, that for technology to have a transformational impact, it must be underpinned by effective pedagogy.
The difference between EdTech and PedTech
Fiona says Educational Technology — or EdTech — is about the systems and processes and procedures and management aspects of education, whereas Pedagogical Technology — or PedTech — emphasises people and relationships and learning behaviours. PedTech is about shifting towards “what we know makes an actual impact on learning.”
The difficulty is that much of the technology we see in schools or education today doesn’t take into account the pedagogical aspects of teaching. It’s more about facilitating the systems and processes. We sometimes forget to step back and ask, how does this help children learn?
Fiona highlights a danger she calls ‘policy driven evidence making’ in place of ‘evidence-led policy making.’ I’m paraphrasing a bit, but she explains it this way: many new technology products give students ‘personalised experiences’ based on formative assessment. Students use the technology to complete tasks that lead them down the next pathway based on retrieval practice and knowledge consolidation.
Short-term versus long-term learning
If we measure the impact over the timeline of an academic year, these products do well in randomised controlled trials because the students who use them are usually way ahead in terms of attainment compared with those who don’t use them. But if we factor in other kinds of evidence about long-term memory retention and the forgetting curve, then those products don’t look so good because after the assessment point, the students’ knowledge drops as the forgetting curve kicks in.
If after year one, students have forgotten 97% of what they learned, then we’re doing them a huge disservice because not only have they lost that knowledge but there's an opportunity cost of what they could have learned and what would have become embedded in their understanding.
The bottom line is that from the point of view of the children and their lives, we want to be looking at much longer timelines.
This makes me think of a recent blog post by Roger Hitchin, a teacher and maths lead at Wellington Prep School. Roger was one of the first teachers in southwest England to adopt the Maths — No Problem! Programme, back in 2015-16. In his post, he and five of his former pupils reflect on what it was like to transition to a mastery programme in Year 4, and how it has influenced them in secondary school. Hint: all five pupils took the GCSE in maths in June 2022, a year early, and scored highly.
Editor’s note: Roger and another group of former pupils will be appearing at our Manchester Conference on 25 May. They’ll be sharing the stories behind their Maths — No Problem! experience, how this foundation has helped them as they approach their GCSEs and how they think it will influence their future careers. It promises to be an engaging panel. Please see here for tickets.
Toward a simpler Digital Future
Maths — No Problem! is deeply committed to building our products around the best pedagogy available. This commitment is what separates us from our competitors. We take pains to get the pedagogy right because we know it embeds learning more deeply, which ultimately creates the best outcomes for pupils.
I want to thank all of the teaching professionals who have recently taken the time to share their ideas and insights with us as we move forward with some exciting new products and features. I’ll be able to give you an update soon.
These products and features will be transformative because they’re based on sound pedagogy. We’re focused on giving teachers the ability to use content in a way that makes sense for them, so that they can spend more time with the children and less time trying to figure out yet another ‘cool’ new product.
When people hear ‘Digital Future,’ they often think it’s something dramatic and complicated. But the way we’re looking at it, the Digital Future is much simpler.
To paraphrase Professor Rosemary Luckin, technology on its own isn’t going to make any difference to anything. It's how we use it.
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