Number.bee 2016

Its just over two weeks since Caddington Village School hosted the fantastic Number.bee 2016 where teams competed for the title of Times Table Champions and five Archos tablets kindly donated by Partnership Education.

In total 17 teams (68 pupils!) competed in a live scoring competition answering over 20,000 questions in the group stages. Scoring was based upon both the hardness of the question and the time taken to answer it accumulating a score out of 10 - the highest points going to answering hard questions quickly!

Caddington headteacher Sue Teague said:

We were delighted to host the first ever Number Bee at Caddington; there was an amazing buzz in the room (ouch - no pun intended!) as the pupils battled it out in a fun and friendly manner.

Well done to Putteridge for winning first place and proving the power of practise. We were also very proud of our own Year 5 pupil, Ella - who scooped the individual fastest time prize. Thanks to Flurrish, also to Partnership Ed for providing the prizes and sending some great technical support to work with us on the day. Huge thanks to the schools that sent teams - it was a pleasure to meet so many lovely staff, parents and pupils.

Hope to see you all again next year!

Before the final knockout stages Dr Tom Mitchel from Edge Hill University gave a short talk on how the brain operates with the teams then building their own neurons.

The knockout stages saw six teams compete head to head and its worth remembering that this was a team game. The teams that performed best were consistently good across all games by all players. Its interesting to look at the mean game time (where a game is a random selection of 20 questions from the 1-12x tables) for these teams:

Caddington A: 30.1

Putteride A: 31.3

Putteridge B: 28.5

Ramridge A: 49.8

Slip End B: 46.3

Weston Turville A: 49.3

The three-way final saw Putteridge A, Putteridge B and Caddington A go head-to-head with Putteridge B triumphing in a tightly fought set of times tables! The final mean game times were 31.6, 27.7 and 29.5 respectively - that is very fast times tabling!

Finally, in addition to the main team challenge, we also had an individual challenge for the highest scoring individual which went to a pupil from Caddington. This was an extremely competitive play-off so many congratulations. Caddington's team are pictured below.

Finally we would like to thank the staff and pupils at Caddington Village school for hosting the Number.bee, Partnership Education for donating prizes, Dr Tom Mitchell and all the pupils who participated. We are looking forward to seeing you next year!

Number.bee 2016

We are very proud to be working with Caddington Village School to bring you the 2016 Number.bee. This is a hugely exciting opportunity that will bring together the best times tabling pupils to compete in the first annual event - it is group based (teams of four) for pupils up to Year 6. Partnership Education have donated FIVE 7" Android tablets as prizes.

This is a no cost event that will also incorporate learning activities between rounds of game-play. Put the date in your diary - 28th JUNE 2016 and register by emailing for more details.

We look forward to seeing you there!!

Case Study: deploying Kindle Fire

[with thanks to Amanda Burrett, Learning Resources Co-ordinator, Shefford Lower School]

We get a range of queries about what sort of devices to use Number.fy on and our response is that it will run on anything, be that a 4" smartphone, 7" phablet or 10" tablet! Well, almost anything - the only device that has defeated us is an Archos 70c Xenon, although from our testing we think this is an issue with a driver on the device itself.

One of the benefits of deploying on Android is the vast array of devices at a range of price points. And as schools are price conscious lower priced models often have a look-in. With that in mind Amanda Burrett at Shefford Lower School deployed a set of Kindle Fires for their pupils - and because we know it's useful to others, here are her comments:

  • they were rcheap and readily available
  • there is an option to pay £10 more per device and not get adverts
  • they took about 5-7 minutes per device to set up
  • because of the proxy settings, you need to choose to "complete set up later" when initially setting them as you can't access the advanced wifi settings at that point
  • you cannot just restore them from back-up to set up new ones
  • use the Apps and Games application settings to disable various things like Location Services and notifications.
  • after downloading Number.fy and pulling the device ID off, I used Parental Controls and blocked all app types except Games (Number.fy falls in this category)
  • you get the Device ID from the Docs app under Local Storage and device-id.log

Hope that's helpful to others as it's always good to see what similar schools are doing.

Flurrish User Group 2016

There was a hugely successful Flurrish User Group day that ran earlier this month at Caddington Village School, organised through Central Bedfordshire CPD. Audio from two of the talks, along with ALL the slides are below.

The day kicked off with a keynote by Dr Tom Mitchell from Edge Hill University who talked about the psychological and pedagogic underpinnings to rote learning and the role it has to play in mathematics, before going on to describe initial results analysing data from Number.fy.

The day then split into two streams - one a technical Q&A session for IT support looking at methods of installing Number.fy, implementing devices across a school and their maintenance. The second stream was for teaching staff where Rob Weightman (Deputy Head, Putteridge Primary) spoke about their implementation and "just 10 minutes a day" which has allowed their pupils to answers 500,000 questions by January! Richard Kingham (Caddington) then spoke about his extensive experience in KS2 teaching years 3 and 4 and his approach to rote learning and teaching to the gaps.

After lunch Sue Teague (Headteacher, Caddington) introduced the use of Number.fy data for both detailed analysis of pupils and whole school monitoring. Tom then rounded things off talking about research and how schools are natural laboratories. Teachers are in a unique position to be involved in understanding how children learn.

Of course, no User Group would be complete without a a prize for the fastest times tabler which went to Kerry Kent (Oxhey Wood) with a time of 32s. And, just to finish with, some comments from the day:

  • Found it useful to have the psychology theory behind the number recall
  • Practical ideas of how to use the app to assess and to improve standards
  • Teachers talking about the app in use in the classroom and looking at the ease of navigating the results
  • A brilliant day!
  • Very useful and honest responses showing us how the app can be used in our classrooms
  • Good to hear from schools who are actually using the app and their successes
  • There were good examples of the resource being used and honest discussions about obstacles that may be faced

The Power of Practice, Dr Tom Mitchell, Edge Hill University

Just 10 minutes a day..., Rob Weightman (Deputy Head, Putteridge)

The App at Work, Richard Kingham (Caddington)

Crunching the Numbers, Sue Teague (Headteacher, Caddington)

Get Involved in Research, Dr Tom Mitchell, Edge Hill University

"Times tables: the phony war"

A nice summary piece by Donald Clark titled "Times tables – the phony, proxy war between traditionalists and progressives" which looks at the arguments both for and against rote memorisation of times tables, noting the benefits to confidence and the automaticity of memorisation in further calculations, whilst also commenting on the time that can be spent only doing this and the potential drop in confidence as a result of "failing" testing. But the summary is balanced and fair - use the right tools for the job and, as with everything in learning, the right path is more nuanced. Memorisation clearly has an important place.

Caddington Village School's work on finding the hardest times table, as reported in the Guardian DataBlog and published in Mathematics Teaching is noted when showing the areas that are difficult and so why it might be worth focusing on these.

Well worth the time to read and formulate your own opinion.

"Getting the basics right"

Schools Minister Nick Gibb spoke at the beginning of the month at Elmhurst Primary School on the importance of the building blocks in numeracy. The first half of the talk set the scene in terms of relatively poor PISA results and then highlighting some areas of the UK where there are excellent results.

It was the latter half of the speech which was interesting to us at Flurrish, as Nick focused upon the learning of number facts, noting the government's move to introduce computerised testing of test Year 6 pupils. He began by introducing some of the psychology research that supports this cognitive approach and then followed it up with controlled trials testing to see the impact this had. One of Nick's points particularly resonated:

"Memorising sums and times tables is simply an important gateway for achieving the far more valuable prize of conceptual understanding in mathematics. When your working memory is freed of having to make simple calculations, it can think more fully about the conceptual underpinnings of a problem. As the American cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham has written, 'This automatic retrieval of basic math facts is critical to solving complex problems, because complex problems have simpler problems embedded in them.'"

And we couldn't agree more. Nick also (although not by name) refers to Jo Boaler's recent comments to ban times table testing (our emphasis). However as we noted earlier

"It is not terrible to remember maths facts; what is terrible is sending kids away to memorise them and giving them tests on them which will set up this maths anxiety."

It isn't times table per se that are her problem, but bad teaching and testing that emphasises anxiety.

Which brings us back to what we do at Flurrish. Number.fy is NOT intended to replace teachers - learning times tables needs good teachers that can build this learning into their day and, crucially, teach to the gaps. What Number.fy does offer is:

1.Learning in the classroom

2. MASSIVE practice. Nowhere else will you get EACH PUPIL in a year 2 class to answer 10,000 questions over the course of a school year on 10 minutes a day, where 65% then master their 1-12x tables.

3. It's all automatically marked and, importantly, presented in an easy to digest manner allowing teachers to rapidly identify strengths and weaknesses.

BONUS: probably the most effective method to undertake whole school testing/screening. This allows SLT to feed back to governors (and Ofsted) demonstrating impact.

EXTRA BONUS: the weekly summary email enables you to see at a glance which classes are playing and which aren't.

Flurrish User Group 2016

Just a reminder that the Flurrish User Group 2015 is running Wednesday 9th March at Caddington Village School from 10.00-15.00. Please book your place at Central Bedfordshire CPD. We have a great programme lined up:

The Power of Practice, Dr Tom Mitchell, Edge Hill University

Just 10 minutes a day..., Rob Weightman (Deputy Head, Putteridge Primary)

The App at Work, Richard Kingham (Caddington)

Crunching the Numbers, Sue Teague (Headteacher, Caddington)

Get Involved in Research, Dr Tom Mitchell, Edge Hill University

Look forward to seeing you there!

Half-a-Million Questions and counting...

Putteridge Primary reached the milestone of half-a-million times table questions answered so far this year... and counting!! The milestone came on a grey dreary January day, but that belies the huge progress that pupils have made. As they note:

"The children in Upper Key stage 2 work independently on the app for 10 minutes each day - the data is logged and the teachers are able to analyse the responses to find out strengths and potential areas for improvement.

As well as the children's enjoyment of the use of the hi-tech devices, the results have been really pleasing. For example, the percentage success for answering random tables questions has increased by over 5%. In addition, the time taken to complete each question has reduced dramatically.

By increasing the 'fluency' of the children's responses, the children are able to approach other maths questions with increased confidence."

And just as a reminder, success is driven by staff and pupils for the following two reasons:

1. Staff ensure that there is 10 minutes of "play" each and every day. This is a non-negotiable for learning.
2. Staff review the results and then help pupils to target the "gaps" in knowledge/understanding.

Numberfy is the perfect partner for this because you get incredible density of practice in the classroom - and all of that data is then available to review rapidly.

Times Table Testing at Year 6

The government announced "on screen" times table testing for all year 6 (11 year old) children this week. This is part of Nicky Morgan's "non-negotiables" that aim to ensure all children have a floor standard in terms of competencies.

We can't argue with the desire (and requirement) for children to really "know" their number facts - this knowledge unequivocally leads to easier access to higher level maths and develops numeracy confidence in pupils. We know that many teachers dislike the idea of "testing" but this really has to happen for two reasons:

1. Testing is a fact of education, a fact of life. Once it is routine it becomes easier and is therefore a positive benefit for pupils. We wouldn't agree with testing for the sake of it or where (beyond reasonableness) testing becomes the goal, rather than learning.

2. Schools have a responsibility to ensure a good education for all pupils. Responsibility without oversight leads to abuses in the system - this is one potential solution to ensuring delivery of non-negotiables.

So overall we believe this a generally positive move, although we might quibble with the desire (and rationale) to learn the 11x and 12x times tables. We would also question why number bonds aren't included in this as well, as irregular bonds to 20 are very commonly used with manual calculation.

It's also interesting to see the use of on-screen testing for the first time. This is routinely used in other sectors so it's encouraging to see the DfE looking at ease and efficiency in delivering the testing. Some brief thoughts given our experience in this area:

1. Method: we would assume a system that incorporates randomised web-based testing will be employed.
2. Authentication: it will be interesting to see how children are "logged-on" to the system. Perhaps a master password for the school and then individual UPN.
3. Test Format: critically how many questions and how long. We would suggest 100 questions would be a good sample, with a time limit applied - maybe 15 minutes. This is based upon knowing that an extremely fast player completes 20 questions in 30s (1.5s per Q or 40Qs per min) - a competent year 5/6 pupil in <60s (3s per Q or 20 Qs per min). And if you're testing recall then you don't really want to allow pupils to go beyond 10s per Q. That would be a fair sample size, but probably too intensive for 15 minutes. So maybe banks for 20 questions, with a break between each bank.

The last point is quite critical - you do need enough questions to be able to fairly test the knowledge of an individual. Not enough and the randommised nature of the test will produce odd results. This would even out over a whole school which is possibly more what the government is interested in. However if they aren't careful then it may simply test the times table knowledge of the country, but say very little about individuals or schools.

It goes without saying that practising times tables will lead to better recall and out expectation is that schools currently using Number.fy will be at a significant advantage when it comes to performing on the tests.

Ban times tables test...

O dear - it seems that even academics are not above encouraging the press to hyperventilate a bit with Jo Boaler being interviewed for TES and then the subsequent hyperbole - for example here, here and here. Just look at the comments on the Daily Mail page for example.

Perhaps the most telling quote from the TES is:

"It is not terrible to remember maths facts; what is terrible is sending kids away to memorise them and giving them tests on them which will set up this maths anxiety."

We would advocate knowing number facts as building confidence and so flexibility in numeracy. That allows the mind to consciously focus on the numerical problem whilst leaving working memory to pull the requisite facts out to work with. Just watch anyone work on the multiplication of large numbers and it becomes so much easier knowing the facts.

We wouldn't argue with bad teaching (requirement to undertake boring tasks) or the stress that testing can induce. The latter though is a fact of life and all students will have to face it, so the more used to testing they become the better. And that is in the sense of not high stakes testing, but just doing tests as part of everyday learning and being relaxed about it.

So a challenge Jo - please please come to some of the schools using Number.fy to see how there is a love learning, playing with number facts, taking place and that it is fun, easy and painless for a class of 30 to answer 180,000 questions in a school year and know their number facts - from age 7.

100% in KS2 Maths SATs (Guest Post: Sue Teague)

We are delighted with our Key Stage 2 SATs results this year... 100% (54) of our pupils achieved Level 4 or better! We put a big part of this success down to our use of the Number.fy app.

Our Year 6 Pupils have used the app daily to practice their times tables and number bonds. Knowing your times tables will not in itself secure enough marks to achieve Level 4, the app has done much more than this. Our pupils have enjoyed maths, found it fun and have been used to operating under pressure. The app promotes mental agility and pupils have enjoyed discussing strategies for remembering or working out the answers.

Teachers have had the benefit of knowing what pupils can and can’t do – as soon as the pupils have finished playing – no waiting, no marking, just timely, accurate feedback and meaningful discussion about maths.

It’s not all about achievement though...what about progress? 52 out of the 54 pupils made 2 levels progress from KS1. If you haven’t done the maths yet that’s 96% of pupils making 2 levels progress.

We are hugely proud of our pupils and staff, so thank you Flurrish for contributing to our success.

Guest Post: Sue Teague, Headteacher, Caddington Village School

New Year, New Start

The new school year marks doing more, with less, with the same children, some new ones, some having moved to pastures new and seemingly less time to do it all in! The government remains as committed to number facts as ever and is this is placing more and more demands on knowledge.

2014/15 was a successful year for the schools enrolled with Flurrish, answering over 900,000 questions over the year. That's a lot of practice! We hope that this year we can beat that 1M marker! As ever it takes a little while for school year fever to settle down and make sure all the class lists are up to date and everyone accessing the service. However practice waits for no one and the sooner you get started the more deeply memorisation will sink in. This is particularly true for the early starters in year 2, and very much so for those on boosters leading up to SATs in year 6. And for those using Number.fy for baseline testing it's critical to get up and running as soon as possible.

So there's lots going on and we hope to keep you posted!

Flurrish User Group 2015 Summary

Caddington Village School hosted the third annual Flurrish User Group, this year headlined by Dr Tom Mitchell speaking on "Making Practice Perfect." Tom talked about the use of spaced repetition in learning, the different types of memory deployed by the brain and the role of executive functioning. There was considerable discussion around the importance of working memory and using standardised testing to measure this and so help pupils improve it. This naturally led on to the sorts of feedback given by apps (and cognitive rationale for this) as well as wider strategies to improve learning. View Tom's presentation and hear his talk using the links below.

Amanda Howes (Head of School, Slip End) outlined the impact upon results of whole school deployment. Richard Kingham (Y2 Teacher, Caddington Village School) and Adam Burgess (Y4 Teacher, Slip End) then talked on "Practise Makes Perfect" and how they have deployed Number.fy across two different schools and the results they have seen this year. There was a focus upon the strategies used in the classroom and how this supports delivering the National Curriculum. Sue Teague (Executive Head, Caddington) then talked upon the whole-school testing and the use of Number.fy within the context of metrics for monitoring and feedback to governors.

An excellent day that provided both an academic backdrop to learning and a range of practitioner experience.

Flurrish User Group 2015

Just a reminder that the Flurrish User Group 2015 is running Wednesday 24th June at Caddington Village School from 10.00-14.00. Lunch is provided so please email to book your place. We have a great programme lined up:

Making Practice Perfect: Dr Tom Mitchell, Edge Hill University
Starting from Scratch, Amanda Howes (Head of School, Slip End
Practise Makes Perfect, Richard Kingham (Caddington), Adam Burgess (Slip End)
Supporting Assessment, Sue Teague (Headteacher, Caddington)

look forward to seeing you there!

Dropping the Balls.....

Yet another politician - this time Ed Balls - was left stumped by 7x6 with a small amount of embarrassment. It was a cross between Stephen Byers (who got a question wrong) and George Osborne (who refused to answer). However 7x6 is one of the questions that our 10-13 year olds struggle with (albeit Ed is a little older than this).

Whilst you never forget times tables once learnt... practice makes perfect!

Nick Gibb: Maths Reforms (London Thames Maths Hub Primary Conference)

Nick Gibb spoke at the London Thames Maths Hub Primary Conference last week about the changes and reforms to maths education within the National Curriculum. Whatever we might think of the changes, they are certainly far reaching and for this reason it is worth reading the original script.

At Flurrish we are highly focused upon primary numeracy skills and, in particular, number bonds and times tables. It's worth noting what Nick Gibb had to say about this part of the curriculum:

"We have introduced a new national curriculum, which is more detailed and more demanding, to reflect the mastery approach. Year 1 pupils are introduced to all 4 functions and to basic fractions. In year 2, basic columnar addition and subtraction is studied, with carrying and borrowing in year 3. In year 2 the teaching of times tables begins, and pupils are expected to know all of the times tables up to 12 x 12 by year 4.

Instant recall of facts like times tables is crucial because the working memory is small and so they need to be committed to long term memory, as explained by Daniel Willingham in his book 'Why don't students like school'. Such recall from long term memory is essential to be able to add fractions, and perform long multiplication and division, which pupils will be taught in year 5 and year 6. The year by year approach sets out greater clarity and the focus on fluency in the essentials of maths allows time for pupils to practise more to ensure deep knowledge. We are also expecting the majority of pupils to move through programmes of study at roughly the same pace."

This picks out some important points:

(1) Maths builds upon skills. Children will find it easier with later topics if they have mastered earlier ones.

(2) Times tables (and implicitly number bonds) need to be committed to implicit memory to ease later learning.

(3) Practise!

We don't disagree with any of those points - we'd also add that you can turn memorisation in to a lot of fun for children and boost their confidence. Number.fy seamlessly fits in to the classroom and delivers BIG TIME on FUN and, more importantly, IMPACT. The startling results at Caddington Village School show that you can use the same starter activities with Number.fy but dramatically increase the amount of practise. So much so that 65% of the class knew all their 12x tables by the end of Year 2.