'I can do this!' – how Sparx homework has transformed children's attitudes to maths

'I can do this!' – howSparx children's att


omework is often a vexed subject for parents and students alike, and can be the cause of a good deal of tension in the home and at school – add a subject like maths into the equation, and homework time can become a source ofmuch

rx, the

frustration for all involved. However, there are solutionswhich canmitigatemany of the problems. One such comes fromExeter- based learning company Sparx

brainchild ofmathematics lecturerMark n education journalist Sal

McKeown report s Dixon.Well-know


It is Tuesday afternoon in a year 7 class in St James Exeter, part o Academy Trust. The

omework is often a vexed subject for parents and students alike, and can be the cause of a good deal of tension in the home and at school – add a subject like maths into the equation, and homework time can become a source of much frustration for all involved. However, there are solutions which can mitigate many of the problems. One such comes from Exeter- based learning company Sparx, the brainchild of mathematics lecturer Mark Dixon. Well-known education journalist Sal McKeown reports.

29 children have arrived after f the TedWraggMulti-

lunch, grabbed iPads minis from the front of the class and settled down to the starter activity, a five minute burst of maths designed to make them focus after lunch.

Their teacher Philippa Stevens chivvies them to get headphones and reminds them of the three strategies if they are stuck: to watch one of the online explanatory videos, to ask a friend or to ask her. Children are e ncouraged to be as self- sufficient as possible.

and intensity. Stude What is striking a

bout the lesson is the speed nts work on screens but have

to write down their working out and answers in their books which they then mark in class. You can see who has started on the task - green means they’ve got it right, red means it’s wrong,

www ttitudes tomaths

blue means they’re looking at a video. They are monitored from start to finish and as soon as they have completed the core tasks, the technology moves them on to the extension activities so early finishers don’t have the chance to disrupt others' work.

Philippa can spot who is forging ahead, who is working fast but getting wrong answe stuck, who is looking busy but doing n

othing or rs, who is

nothing productive. She can also keep a close eye on behaviour and nip low level disruption in the bud.

Topics completed in class are automatically included in homework to consolidate what was covered in class. At the end of the starter activity she calls up the homework screen and comments on individual pupils' performance, singling out those who have made an extra effort or worked through the optional questions.

Who would have thought it? Children doing extra homework, rather than the bareminimum and in maths too. This seemed to be an anomaly in a week when the media was full of 'maths anxiety' stories, based on research from

Cambridge University which claimed that one in t en children felt 'apprehension, tension and frustration, while physical symptoms included butterflies, a racing heart or struggling to catch breath.'

Maths homework can be a breaking point for some children.While they can find information and ideas for many subjects by using the internet or asking a family member, with maths they are

3 2 www April 2019 2019

often on their own. Even if they have parents who are confident with numbers they may not be confident that their way of 'doing sums' is the way taught in schools today.

Sparx has been experimental and ambitious in their approach to product development and has spent eight years working in schools. At St James they have a room for Sparx staff, who work on a daily basis with staff and students to try new approaches and ideas and test them to destruction.

'There are so many complexities in teaching,'

rx homework has transformed

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