Falkirk pupils take the credits as maths goes mental
International comparisons show Scotland is falling behind other countries in maths. Students and adults are often keen to talk of their dislike of the subject, and it can be hard to persuade them that it is fun. Those who like it are usually good at it, but at Denny High, students of all levels and capabilities are discovering its attraction.
Two years ago, the Falkirk school introduced Mathletics software, a computer-based learning programme which improves mental arithmetic. The following year, the school came third in the finals of the Scottish Enterprising Mathematics Competition at Glasgow University and won the Scottish Mathematics Challenge.
Today, Margaret Craig is taking a class of first years, using Mathletics instead of traditional methods. Lewis Todd, 12, is flying through the tasks set for him by the teacher. If he gets to the end, he can move on to the mental arithmetic section, competing against pupils as far away as Australia.
He will also gain credits which he can use in the online shop. "Each week you build up credits and use them to buy backgrounds or hair colours for your caricature," Lewis explains.
This personalisation is the key to Mathletics' success, agree the mathematics staff, and the reason so many pupils are using the site at home.
As well as set tasks, if pupils do well they can unlock games to play - games where maths is used in context and quick thinking required.
"Because not everyone has internet access, we don't set homework tasks," says Mathletics co-ordinator Kimberly Robinson. "But we are finding that the kids are logging on to it at home, and the librarian has said that they are also doing so in the library at lunchtime."
Sitting at her own computer, Mrs Craig can see at a glance how each pupil is getting on with each task, and can adapt them accordingly. "Some of the work looks easy, but it is about building up speed," she adds.
A package which rewards pupils for how much they have achieved, rather than how they compare with their peers, it has been good for all pupils. "High-achievers are more accustomed to being rewarded," says Ms Robinson, "but this caters for the disengaged kids. They can work towards certificates."
Other teachers agree that pupils of all levels are benefiting equally. Second-year pupil Gavin Robson is in neither the top maths group nor the bottom, but was chosen to be one of two ambassadors in Scotland for World Maths Day.
"Gavin was by far the best in the school," says Ms Robinson. "He had the highest result for The Scottish Schools Maths Challenge run by Mathletics, which takes place in November. He was also in the top 50 pupils in Scotland for that challenge, so we asked him to be an ambassador."
"I was delighted to be nominated," recalls Gavin. "I put posters up about World Maths Day in the area, I gave an interview to the Falkirk Herald, and I went to visit P7s in schools to promote it."
While it is too early for the effect to have worked its way through to Standard grades, it has created a more positive image for maths. "Mental agility and basic skills have improved," says Mrs Craig. "It is good for all levels."
Ms Robinson agrees. "The kids love it and it is positive PR for maths. It promotes a better attitude and ethos to the subject and brings variety into the classroom. They get bored doing the same thing all the time."