Reflections on Using Robotics to Build Maths Skills in Primary Schools

One of the teachers from our partner school – Ermington, has taken time to reflect on how through the Maths for the Million project they have used robotics to build maths skills in the primary setting. With such raw enthusiasm for technology, who wouldn’t want to harness children’s enthusiasm for coding and computing in a purposeful way.

“I love this!”
The words of a pupil using a robot to complete a circumference-related task.


What teacher wouldn’t feel swelling pride to hear these words used in a lesson, particularly when it comes to maths. This, of course, has been the driving ambition behind Maths for the Million: to positively address maths teaching and learning. To change mindsets, perhaps.

After encountering those magic words through the teaching of robotics in our setting, we looked at how using an interactive, “real-world” application of computing could link with core maths skills. There were many applications that came to mind:

* co-ordinates (make the robot go to a particular location on the grid)
* solve equations (program the robot to arrive at a particular solution to a calculation)
* revolution and direction
* distance measuring
* angles (making the robot turn a measured angle in degrees)

There are so many more ways to explore maths in the curriculum with robots. But then came the real learning (for us as much as the children). As we challenged the pupils to make a robot move as close as possible to 1m distance, we saw Year 6 children use the concept of circumference to calculate distance and therefore rotations needed. This ranged from trial and error to using the abstract to work it out. Because we didn’t put any “solution” to their use of the robot, the pupils themselves came up with the solutions that demonstrated an innate conceptualisation of the circumference of the wheels; though the pupils themselves may not have called this understanding “circumference”, they used the idea of how far one rotation took the robot and scaled appropriately.

As a teacher, this was a revelation in the making – we could see them learning through play, and then we applied the language and concept to their already developed understanding. Learning in the “real world” with something they could control gave the pupils purpose and allowed them to take maths off the page and into reality.

Will robots be a part of our pupils’ future lives? Possibly. But I know that the joy of using them to learn will stay with them (and myself) for a long time to come.

The Long Winding Road!

Everyone has a personal relationship with maths and like many relationships, there are ups and downs along the way. Through our Maths and Me series we have been fortunate enough to interview a wide variety of people, drawn from a range of professions. What becomes apparent is that there are many reasons why an individual may have some strong (positive and negative) emotions tied up to the subject of maths.

For some individuals, it was that inspirational maths teacher whose energy, enthusiasm, competence, and belief acted as at ‘track changer’ moving them from a journey of maths loathing to one of quiet confidence or outright enjoyment.

TeacherFor others, they had experienced the enjoyment of maths almost from the start and this seemed to have continued throughout their lives. Sadly, often it was the lack of practical application of maths that made it seem removed from the real world, and as such early enjoyment and engagement may have waned as lessons became less and less applicable to an older student’s developing world.

For many of those interviewed, it seemed to be the move to adulthood and the required practical application of maths through household financial management, shopping, and budgeting that provided a focus and rationale for the subject. For others, their careers provided the rationale, enjoyment, and realization that maths had a positive place in their lives. Whatever the individuals’ stories, it becomes apparent that it isn’t (a positive relationship towards maths) just down to a rich engaging curriculum maths curriculum and sometimes it sadly it is despite the absence of this, that some will eventually find maths to be their friend, not foe!

Enjoy and reflect on a few of the linked personal journeys that we have been privileged to capture.

Blended Learning and the Covid challenge.The need for digital literacy.

Over the last few months almost all schools and educational settings have struggled to meet the unprecedented demands of having to provide “blended learning” during the ongoing pandemic. Whilst many schools are planning for a full return of pupils at the start of the Autumn Term it is quite probable ,with Covid spikes across Europe, that this mix of on-site and remote education is here for the longer term, with face to face teaching less than guaranteed.

From a project basis it has reiterated to us that digital literacy is so key for pupils, teachers and parents alike.Educational settings across Europe are all putting the final touches to their contingency plans for the new term and support to facilitate blended learning is a top priority.


The Higher Education Policy Institute’s article below discusses a number of the challenges  posed by blended learning and is well worth reflecting on.

In the meantime the project is faced with the challenge of how to potentially manage to hold its last Transnational Project Meeting virtually, if we are unable to hold it in person in Lithuania in October. Necessity is driving us all to become more efficient video conferencers however how do you manage to structure a meeting that would have required two solid days working  to help tie up the end of a project? Sometimes face-face is a necessity and not just a desirable.

Further reading: Online learning: Are we asking the right questions?


Developing Skills of Action Research.

As part of our project, all partners involved have been carrying out their own action research within their own schools and settings. As we come towards the end of the project the findings of the action research has been shared at a variety of multiplier events where we have explored what the research has meant with respect to teaching and learning.

Action research topics included:

* The concept of equality and the equal sign (=) in Elementary School
* The use of games-including the Spanish card deck -in the Maths teaching process
* The use of manipulatives to enhance children’s mathematical understanding and problem solving
* How to develop  parental engagement with respect to maths

The research findings will be published as part of our project outputs and will hopefully inspire other schools to carry out their own action research and enable them to reflect on how sometimes the simplest change in practice or focus can make significant differences to the quality of teaching and learning. We held a webinar  on the subject of action research, earlier in the project which provided a great opportunity to schools to engage with this topic.

Watch the below webinar from the M4TM project: How to undertake research in your own setting.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any specific questions around action research or the project generally.

Plymouth Marjon University -UK M4TM Multiplier event.

Today marked a landmark moment in the Maths for the Million project, as partners travelled to support the UK multiplier event. Four highly relevant workshops linked to the project were supported by two very high-quality key-note speaker sessions. The meeting was extremely well attended with teachers with a range of experience, engaging fully in the workshops, and feeding back that they found the day extremely beneficial.

It was really rewarding to see European partners heavily involved in the group sessions, sharing their experiences of the project. The Industry Project workshop showcased how real-life links to maths can be made within schools, with parents actively involved in sharing how maths pervades their working and home lives! The children presenting on their experiences of the Industry project were the stars of the show!

Recordings of the sessions and supporting slides can be found @Maths4TM resources page.

Next, it is onto to Cyprus for the 8th Transnational Project Meeting in February 2020.


M4TM Pupil Exchange Week to Cyprus.

It is a real privilege to see , after many months of planning, the M4TM Pupil Exchange in action! Building a European dimension is so crucial in these uncertain times and a week of fun, engagement and learning is well underway. Each country has taken on responsibility for planning a teaching session linked to mathematics and other external provider sessions will have focused on STEM and robotics. Our evening sessions have provided an opportunity to share traditional games and tonight brings the UK’s chance to showcase Beetle Drive alongside our Spanish friends who have a surprise game lined up.

5th Transnational Meeting – Budapest – 2nd – 6th February 2019

On arrival in Budapest it did not take long to identify the key themes threaded through the Hungarian school that we visited, clearly inspired by the European teacher training event that had taken place at Marjon in October. All of the teachers that we saw in practice had linked their teaching to the project, clearly promoting connections in maths through the use of visual support, including visible resources and pictures or diagrams. They were able to explicitly show the connection between the practical elements of maths and how they can provide the opportunity for children to focus on where maths appears within real life.


One lesson in particular (as pictured) demonstrated how children are able to develop their thinking in maths if their teacher provides a multitude of ways to visualise something. McDonalds vouchers provided a perfect way to illustrate how fractions can be understood and children were proactive in practically finding the answers to more complex calculations. This was reiterated by a pictoral version, seen on the board, which children accessed as a point of reference to extend their knowledge of the concept.


The teacher fluidly moved between the physical resources and the visual on the board which appealed to all of the children’s varying learning styles. During the meetings it was great to hear all partners speak of the renewed enthusiasm that their teacher’s felt after meeting in England and everyone thoroughly enjoyed sharing the ways that they have adapted the practise in their schools as a result of this. Thank you to all countries for their contributions during this transnational meeting and a special thanks to our Hungarian hosts for their warmth, hospitality and generosity!  

Fourth Transnational Project Meeting Cyprus October 3rd-7th 2018

Milestone meeting for M4TM, as we entered the second full year of this fantastic project. The meeting provided an opportunity to reflect on progress that had been made during the course of the first year whilst recognising that there is still much to do. Final planning was completed for the forthcoming C1 Staff Training event and forthcoming priorities identified; including roll out of the final home school packs ,teacher, pupil and parent surveys.

Maths image showing a child writing