We are frequently told that for a game to be successful, user autonomy is vital. We apply this in DoodleMaths, but only when they have done their maths questions for the day. And even then, we remove choice – the questions are chosen by the application, not by the user. Why?
Our claim for DoodleMaths is that it “rapidly accelerates children’s progress in maths” (you may contrast this with many competitors, who claim to “make maths fun”, “make maths engaging” or “support your child”). Our claim is backed up by a major study by the University of Bath. But to achieve this, we must be in control of what questions each child does.
The pedagogical research underpinning DoodleMaths was largely based on identifying a child’s Zone of Proximal Development (look up papers by Vygotsky, Coffey or Wertsch) – the narrow band that is the difference between what a learner can do without help, and what he or she can do with help. DoodleMaths identifies this zone and creates a daily-practice work program based around it, filling in gaps to ensure continual progression. To do this, the application has to remove any choice from the user as to what they study – it chooses questions for each individual based on data it has gathered from previous responses (this data is also shown to the teacher and parent – see image 1, a screenshot of ‘Gap Analysis’ on the teacher dashboard).
This means there is no possibility of children selecting ‘easy’ questions on topics they are already familiar with, or teachers selecting questions that are optimal for some – but not all – of the class. Each child has their own individual study program. Once they have completed their daily questions, other features become unlocked – but every exercise they complete (accessed through 5-a-day, New this Week or Added Extras) is chosen for them by the application. See the screenshots below. We believe that most children are actually more engaged with DoodleMaths in the long term precisely because they are working in their ZPD and thus they sense they are making progress.
In short, for DoodleMaths to make good its claim and consistently accelerate children’s progress in maths for all users, we have to be in control of the questions. Allow the user to choose what is studied and the progress made will only be as good as the user’s ability to choose what needs to learned.