Interactive technology can enhance teaching and learning. Tom Donohoe shares the results of a research project that boosted mental maths ability in his school

I have been in the very fortunate position of headteacher at Anton Junior School for five years now and, during that time, our school has progressed on a journey of investment and investigation into the use of interactive technology, in order to support and enhance teaching and learning. In this article I describe how a piece of new technology was used to boost attainment in the school.

Through my involvement in the SLICT (strategic leadership of ICT) course in 2004 I visited two schools in the Midlands that were cited as outstanding in their use of interactive technology as an effective learning tool. I found the visits inspirational and, four years on, interactive whiteboards are embedded as an essential part of my teachers’ repertoire.

We also invested in class sets of voting pads for the children to use. There are many companies that provide these, and we chose Activote, as they directly link to our Promethean boards. The voting pads come in class sets of 32 and work using wireless technology. Children respond to a question by making a choice and clicking the appropriate button. The handsets require no explanation – once they are registered to the interactive whiteboard they are available to use at any time.

The Promethean voting package comes with 6,500 questions for use with pupils, as well as the capability for teachers to design their own quizzes. Capturing student responses when they are questioned can be a powerful tool in influencing the direction of a lesson, or the planning of future work. Voting systems allow the answers of each pupil to be displayed instantly and saved for retrieval later – individually or as a class. Results can also be exported to Excel for record keeping, and further analysis, where appropriate. It is, therefore, an invaluable ‘assessment for learning’ tool – removing the need to hand-record test results for analysis. The data is automatically saved to provide a summative picture, which can be used formatively for future lessons.

The impact of voting systems on attainment
As part of a Primary Strategy Learning Network, we have previously carried out research about the impact of interactive technology on pupils’ attitudes to maths. The outcomes of this work were very positive, showing that, across the five schools in our network, children’s attitudes to maths were significantly improved through the effective use of interactive technology. There are many published research pieces that reinforce this finding.

As an extension of this research, we wanted to find out whether regular use of voting devices could have an impact on children’s attainment in maths. Over recent years, our maths SATs results have been on an encouraging upward trend, but one area that constantly causes us concern is children’s ability to calculate answers to mental maths problems.

We made the decision, therefore, to push the use of the voting pads as a mental maths tool and one class in Y4 was selected as the ‘guinea pig’ class, while the parallel class in this year group was used as a ‘control’.

In order to establish baseline data, the children in both of these Y4 classes were given the QCA mental maths test appropriate to their age in January, 2008. As is usual in our school, all classes then had regular mental maths sessions, with the only difference being that one class used the voting system and the other did not.

We repeated the test after a period of three months in order to make comparisons about progress, by comparing the results of the second test to the original baseline data. Obviously, we would expect children to make progress over this period, regardless of whether they are using the interactive technology or not, but, by using the data from the control class, we were able to make judgements about the impact of the voting tools.

The results
The results proved very interesting, as the table below indicates. The first column of figures shows the average pupil score for each class when they first took the QCA test at the start of the research. The second column shows the average score for each class when they were retested three months later. Both of these test scores are out of 20. The final column shows the difference between the first test and the second test giving a ‘progress score’ for each class.

 Class Average Baseline
Score January 08
Average Score
March 08
Y4 class WITH
 7.6  14.0  +6.4
Y4 class WITHOUT
 7.7  11.1  +3.4

We were obviously pleased that all children in Y4 made good progress over this three-month period. The class without the voting pads improved their average score by 3.4, from 7.7 to 11.1 out of 20. The class that had been using the voting pads increased their scores from 7.6 to 14.0, with a quite staggering average progress score increase of 6.4. In a short period of time, this is a very significant improvement. While I acknowledge that this is only a small research study, and that there would be other variables, we can conclude, with some certainty, that the class that was using the interactive technology made nearly twice the rate of progress class as the class that did the daily mental maths practice without the voting pads.

Pupils’ perceptions
In addition to the hard data generated by the QCA tests, we took the opportunity to give the children a questionnaire, assessing their perceptions regarding the use of the voting tools. We gave the children four statements, asking them for their reaction. Their responses were hugely positive (see box, below).

Statement YES NO
My attitude to/enjoyment of mental maths has
improved because I have been using voting pads.   
99% 1%
My ability in mental maths has improved because
I have been using voting pads.
99% 1%
I feel more confident with mental maths now
than I did before I used activote.
98% 2%
I would like my teacher to plan for me to use
votingpads more in future lessons.
99% 1%

We also asked pupils, who had been using the voting pads, to write how they feel about using them. One pupil stated: ‘Because I have used Activote I feel more confident in mental maths, I also look forward to doing mental maths more because of Activote.’ Another Y4 child commented: ‘Using the voting pads makes lessons more exciting, enjoyable and fun for children and for the teacher!’ These responses were typical of the class and all commented very positively about using the pads.

Another significant advantage of using the voting pads reported to me by class teachers is that children who use Activote like the anonymity it can provide, students can answer freely without fear of the humiliation of answering wrongly. Of course, voting systems can be used like this on ‘anonymous’ mode. Alternatively they can be set to ‘named’ mode, if the teachers feels that it is appropriate. One child in Year 4 wrote on their questionnaire: ‘I really enjoy using Activote, because nobody knows your answer and everyone can get involved. I am now much quicker at answering mental maths questions.’

We have now shared these results with staff and governors at our school and are planning to roll out a more regular use of voting pads throughout the school. We are also very excited about our recent purchase of two class sets of ‘Activexpression’ tools. These wireless pads further develop the level of interactivity that the children can have because they offer a greater range of ways in which pupils can respond. For example, children can text numbers, words and sentences to the interactive whiteboard for the teacher and class to discuss.

‘I have been overwhelmed by the way our teachers have embraced the new wireless voting technology, making it an integral part of their mental maths lessons. The response of the pupils has been equally impressive – they have been highly motivated, fully engaged and brimming with enthusiasm. Effective use of the voting pads has resulted in a marked improvement in children’s attitude and attainment in mental maths.’

Fiona Turner, school improvement teacher, Anton Junior School

In conclusion
If you are interested in increasing pupil engagement, making lessons more interactive and enjoyable, and impacting positively on standards of attainment, you may want to consider an investment in some voting pads. In order to fully benefit from this technology you do need to be prepared to make it a professional development priority, so that teachers feel fully supported. I will leave a Y4 pupil to have the final word: ‘I used to think I was rubbish at maths, but since we have been using the voting pads I have become brilliant!’

Tom Donohoe is headteacher at Anton Junior School, Andover, Hampshire