James Akerman describes how gamified maths has benefited SEN pupils
Meeting the needs of individuals
Arbour Vale School is a special needs school in Slough and provides for over 300 pupils and students from early years to post 16. Some pupils have profound and multiple disabilities and need high levels of personal care as well as educational support. For others, the primary need may be learning disabilities or emotional and behavioural difficulties that act as a barrier to learning. We believe that all children should be able to achieve their full potential, irrespective of their personal learning needs and by working alongside a range of partners we endeavour to meet the individual needs of all our pupils to ensure they enjoy positive educational experiences.
At Arbour Vale School we aim for all our lessons to be engaging and stimulating, so we focus on multi-sensory methods and differentiation. We want our pupils to be curious and to apply their mathematics skills to the world around them. In normal times, we have mathematical themed assemblies, a Number Day, Enterprise Day, Robot Day, and a Maths fayre. During Covid-19 and lockdown, we have had fewer opportunities to celebrate maths and so have been looking at other resources to keep an enthusiasm for the subject.
Partnering with EdTech
Education technology resources are a key part of our strategy as a school, as the visually engaging content supports many of our pupils’ styles of learning. As such, we have sought to establish strong relationships with edtech providers where we can, so as to tailor the teaching and learning experience as much as possible. We have previously done so successfully with other subjects, but we had room to improve in our delivery of maths.
Knowing our pupils respond best to reward-based and visually stimulating resources, we wanted a game-based learning platform that would support their educational experience. As a result, we worked with Mangahigh, a gamified maths resource initially conceived as a mainstream product, but popular amongst SEND schools given its high engagement rates.
We had our first meeting about one year ago. We told them that our learners loved anything with computers and technology as they found it enjoyable but, because of the level of learning disabilities at the school, only ten of our pupils could use it effectively. We were convinced that with some adaptations more of our pupils would benefit from the game-based approach to learning maths.
Key concerns were that the content started at too high a level and that many of our children struggle with reading and so would not understand the questions. We felt that if they did not have to decode text, they might have the maths skills and knowledge to complete more levels. We also wanted content that started at a very basic level so we could engage our pupils and measure progress.
How we used it
Our learners can become frustrated and disengaged when they do not understand a task. Because of their weaker literacy skills they are not likely to work out what they need to do as they go along. They need clear instructions and short bursts of activities. We found the key was to introduce a topic, show the children a game, then explain the maths side in more depth and then get them to play the game.
Maths games are interactive and encourage children to have a go. If they get it wrong, the Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithm takes them to a different activity. I have been impressed by this aspect of the software because the recommendations really do pinpoint the exact area the pupil needs to improve.
The analytics have also been a powerful tool for us and we focused on this during lockdown when we were not seeing all our pupils face-to-face. It is not just about seeing how many answers are right and wrong. I can check the number of times a pupil has attempted a question or activity so I can see where they have struggled. In lockdown I could allocate suitable activities in class to pupils that would help them to understand more clearly and make better progress.
Making suitable adaptations
We wanted the developers to add an extra layer of more manageable activities so pupils working at lower levels could use it too. Since working together, the company has developed new content for ages 5-7 so we can use it with a broader spectrum of our pupils. Now most pupils have their own passwords and can log in independently.
We have also piloted the new Text-to-Speech function so now pupils can read sentence-based questions. These used to make some pupils feel anxious as they struggled to understand what was being asked of them. However, the read aloud feature means they can listen to the question as many times as they want and this has helped many to overcome their anxieties.
The second lockdown was difficult for our pupils but our highly personalised integration of edtech made a difference because it helped them learn in a fun and interactive way.
Advantages of maths games software for pupils with special needs
- Gamified resources increase pupils’ engagement
- The competitive element and the leader board structure encourages MLD students
- The visual aspect helps students to understand the concepts better
- Children are willing to engage with the software at home as well
- The increased time spent working on maths improves skills and confidence
- The analytics are accurate and target the key areas the learner needs to work on
- Listening to questions helps them to understand what they need to do
- Pupils on the autistic spectrum and those with ADHD particularly benefit as it helps draw them in and focus their attention
- Games based software encourages students to work more independently and this spills over into other areas too.