Inductive learning (and other thoughts on how kids learn maths)

3 min read

I first came across inductive learning on a training course early in my teaching career. We were given individual diagrams of 2-D and 3-D shapes and asked to group them. What was fascinating was how everyone came up with a different outcome. Through this, and by communicating this to each other, we developed our understanding of the properties of 2-D and 3-D shapes.

I have used this with great effect many times since in my classroom. Inductive learning is defined as allowing students to “generate their own information, organize that information, make sense of what they have collected, and communicate their understanding to others” (Dell’Olio & Donk, 2007). 

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It is the most powerful way for children, and especially young children, to learn things for themselves. The traditional ‘chalk and talk’ teaching style (teachers explains > students practice > teacher reads out the answers) is probably still the best way to manage a maths classroom with 30 students, and if had to estimate, I’d say that across the country right now, 75% of maths lessons would be taught in this or a similar style. However, most of us learn best through doing things for ourselves.

Now it is difficult to let a class of 30 students loose on a set of problems without being sure they have a decent understanding of what’s coming (we probably all recall that lesson at school where we thought we understood, but when it came to reading out the answers, we’d actually got them all wrong).

But with technology, not only are we able to intervene as soon as a child gets something wrong, but we can also actively encourage children to try things out, experiment, and derive their own conclusions from a question. With DoodleMaths, when we want children to learn something new, we have developed what we call “closed-outcome inductive learning” questions. In such questions, children are asked to sort, link or order information that is carefully selected to provide a single desired learning outcome. There are approximately 1500 such questions within the app. Below is one such example: KS2 (5) In the example shown, two of the fractions are in quarters, two are in fifths. This should be sufficient to induce a child into understanding (or recalling) that the denominator represents the number of divisions a fraction is split into. Most digital maths products have not put technology to its best use.

Typically, tutoring apps and websites tend to replicate the chalk and talk style but on a one-to one basis. There are two flaws here. First, and as previously stated, this is not the best way to learn on an individual basis. Second, a video or animated explanation is inferior to a tutor, and typing in an answer on a keyboard is generally inferior to writing it.

If we are to use technology to genuinely raise standards in maths, we need to embrace what it is good at and use it to its advantage: with DoodleMaths, children learn through doing, through instant feedback, through regular practice at a work program that we are able to adapt to their evolving level, strengths and weaknesses.

Children still occasionally need support, which is of course why we have the help button – and the help button is where most of the development of DoodleMaths will come in the next year. But we believe that children should try to learn things for themselves first, and only listen to an explanation when they need to. This produces more engaged, confident learners who progress demonstrably faster.

Article by DoodleMaths

Doodle empowers learners to achieve confidence in maths and English. Our intelligent technology creates individual work programmes which are motivational, affordable and convenient to use.