The PuzzleFriday project was a concept instigated in 2013 by Paul & Joanne Godding, co-directors of the 7puzzle company.
Both are strong advocates of using innovative ideas in the classroom, such as board games, card games & puzzles to improve children’s maths confidence as well as their arithmetical skills. The following report assesses the impact of the PuzzleFriday project on the maths skills of Primary School pupils in the UK.
Having taught maths and delivered puzzle workshops to students from the EYFS up to adults in FE for his entire career, often using puzzles and games to teach mathematical and arithmetical concepts, Paul was convinced of their effectiveness when used consistently. This project was developed to determine whether his approach could work in other schools and with classroom teachers using his resources.
Six Primary Schools from across the UK volunteered to undertake the trial and were supplied with all resources free of charge. The pupils arithmetic skills were tested both pre- and post-project and the rate of improvement in all schools was dramatic; on average, the scores of the 151 individual pupils tested across the six schools improved by 33%.
A variety of maths-themed puzzles and games were used, many of which had been designed by Paul himself, for an hour a week over a period of 8-10 weeks. This took place within the classroom with the aim of developing Key Stage 2 pupils’:
- Understanding and knowledge of the four arithmetical operations,
- Speed of recall,
- Mental maths & Problem-solving skills.
The project idea was initially publicised on twitter using the network of teachers who regularly contribute to the #ukedchat community. Several schools got in touch to express their interest in taking part. The following schools were chosen for this initial pilot project:
- Ashbrook Junior School, Derby
- Davyhulme Primary School, Manchester
- Edgar Sewter Primary School, Halesworth, Suffolk
- Hythe Primary School, Southampton
- Oakdale Junior School, South Woodford, London
- St. Bartholomew’s Primary School, Bolton
Due to the varying class sizes and abilities of the cohorts from each school, Paul gave the lead teachers the flexibility to run the project in the best way to meet the individual needs of their school and pupils whilst providing a framework of suggested activities. Paul remained in regular contact with the lead teachers from each school providing ongoing support and advice.
Delivery of the project
Each school was provided with a set of free resources suitable for the Key Stage 2 age range to use when running their sessions.
The excellent maths-related board games, card games & puzzles were sufficient for six groups of children, (assuming four or five to each group), to play at the same time allowing a class of 30 children to be engaged during each PuzzleFriday session. Many of these resources have been designed by Paul himself to use in the workshop sessions he runs in schools.
They are still available to purchase simply by clicking on this PuzzleFriday Packs link.
The school’s chose one or two classes to take part and ran the sessions for a maximum of an hour a week on Friday afternoons within the classroom over a period of 8 to 10 weeks during the Summer Term in 2013.
Following Paul’s advice, most schools chose to play the first four games in small groups and in a carousel system, allowing each child to play each game every week for 10-15 minutes. The sessions then finished with the classes playing the 7puzzle game in a team competition format each week.
It was initially expected that a standardised test would be used in each school, both before and after the project, but following discussions it was decided to allow each school to deliver and administer their own tests therefore providing them with relevant data for their own monitoring processes as well as providing data for this project and minimising the administrative burden on the lead teachers.
During the course of the project many of the teachers involved commented on how much their pupils looked forward to the sessions each week, as did both they and their Teaching Assistants; they didn’t see it as ‘doing maths’. As well as commenting on improvements to their pupil’s maths knowledge and understanding, teachers mentioned how much they enjoyed watching their pupil’s listening skills, teamwork and sportsmanship develop. Some of the classes worked together to adapt the rules of the games and make them more challenging and those teachers commented on the increased confidence of their students as well as on the development of their thinking skills, understanding of logic and strategy, and their spatial awareness.
“Many thanks again for involving me in the project, I have really enjoyed using the resources and so have the children! From the results I can see increased speed and accuracy of the 4 rules for nearly every child – and this has been done over only a short period of time! Attitudes towards this fun way of learning has massively improved too – they love the puzzle Fridays (yes, doing maths on a Friday afternoon!!).”
Andy Done: St. Bartholomew’s Primary School
“Average scores have gone up in my class and I’m particularly pleased that they at least attempted more questions which really shows their growing confidence. Thanks for the opportunity,”
Charlotte Peppard: Hythe Primary School
“I’ve included the results for the whole class for May and July. The main increase has been with the lower ability children . . . Thank you for allowing us to be part of this project; the children have really enjoyed it and are looking forward to continuing Puzzle Friday in the new school year.”
Claire Reader: Ashbrook Junior School
Feedback was regularly received from the lead teachers during the course of the project and looked very encouraging; the final data has shown an astonishing improvement in the pupil’s performance across all four of the arithmetical operations. Most of the schools have stated that they will be continuing to use the resources and to run the sessions into the new school year as they have been so successful and that they’ll be widening the number of classes involved.
A précis of the results is shown below based on testing the pupils before the start of the project early in May 2013 and once the project had completed in July 2013. A copy of the full result sets for each school, with anonymised pupil data, is available on request.
Class 1: Year 3/4 (lower ability) – 12 pupils:
- 11 out of 12 students improved their score;
- Total class score in test increased by 81.25%;
- On average, individual pupil scores improved by 92.35%.
Class 2: Year 3/4 (higher ability) – 15 pupils:
- 13 out of 15 students improved their score;
- Total class score in test increased by 67.3%
- On average, individual pupil scores improved by 77.8%.
Class 3: Year 6 (higher ability) – 26 pupils:
(This result is remarkable as the average score in the May test was 35.5 out of 40)
- 20 out of 26 students improved their score;
- Total class score in test increased by 7.2%;
- On average, individual pupil scores improved by 8.3%.
Class 4: Year 5 (middle ability) – 14 pupils:
- 9 out of 14 students improved their score;
- Total class score in test increased by 17.4%;
- On average, individual pupil scores improved by 21.1%.
Class 5: Year 6 – 33 pupils:
- 24 out of 33 pupils improved their score;
- Total class score in test increased by 16%;
- On average, individual student scores improved by 21.9%.
Class 6: Year 5 – 29 pupils:
- 17 out of 29 students improved their score;
- Total class score in test increased by 14.2%;
- On average, individual student scores improved by 24.3%.
Class 7: Year 5 – 22 pupils:
- 20 out of 22 pupils improved their score;
- Total class score in test increased by 28%;
- On average, individual student scores improved by 34.4%.
Conclusions & Next Steps
Despite being a very small scale project, and undertaken during a very busy term with schools and classes also undertaking standardised tests, trips and residential visits, and report writing during the course of the 8 to 10 week-period, the results from all schools have shown a dramatic increase in pupils’ arithmetic skills.
Particular points of note have been:
- Increasing confidence in pupils prepared to ‘have a go’ at questions they previously ignored;
- Where analysed, the speed of the pupils’ attempts dramatically increased;
- Pupils of lower ability showing some of the most dramatic improvements;
- Improvements in pupils confidence and social skills beyond the subject of maths;
- Increasing maths confidence of classroom Teaching Assistants.
We will now be actively seeking support and/or funding to widen this project to a greater number of schools and will be working with the existing schools to measure the longer term impact of PuzzleFriday sessions on their pupils.
Since the conclusion of the project, we have continually encouraged other schools we have worked with to follow up my visit by organising their own PuzzleFriday scheme.
Many have actually bought the PuzzleFriday Packs and seen the positive impact and overall benefits of using our excellent range of board games, card games and puzzles on a Friday afternoon.