And maths with games IS mental. English too, as Lordship Lane learners discovered
Some people think mathematics only happens in your head; it's a purely intellectual exercise. But Bryn Llewellyn’s mission is to prove that maths - English too - is a lot more by enriching children’s learning through physical play activities.
Intellectual and physical nourishment are one and the same as far as the Tagtiv8 active learning games he invented are concerned. And a recent visit to Lordship Lane Primary School in north London to see Tagtiv8 in action proved his point.
Of course there are people who think of English as a cerebral activity too. But what could be more physical than a bunch of nouns, adjectives, adverbs and verbs kicking each other around across sentences? Besides which, most sentences are created to describe physical events, and Tagtiv8 work is full of those — indoors and outdoors too.
Bryn Llewellyn is a teacher with 20 years experience in a range of roles up to primary acting headteacher. But these never quite gave him enough freedom to demonstrate how active learning can counter the curriculum pressures that have led to a more sedentary education for many children.
So he went freelance, designed and produced his own set of Tagtiv8 games (made in India and now 'insourced' to Yorkshire), and he works with schools to bring the kind of excitement and engagement to maths and English that comes from using innovative games with an external service.
Of course schools could just buy his games and implement the teaching and learning themselves. But Tagtiv8 is effectively a startup business and what could be more valuable than working closely with schools and getting the all-important user feedback to better develop and streamline his products?
Tagtiv8 opens up experiences for both learners and teachers
Besides, one of the joys of schools working with external organisations is the opening up of experiences for both learners and teachers. Seeing someone else teach their children gives teachers a unique context for viewing them with fresh eyes and learning more about them and their capabilities.
Watching children at Lordship Lane Primary School (three-form entry, with approaching 700 pupils aged 3-11) as they put the theory into practice was an eye-opener. Year 1s had no trouble in the upstairs gym with the 'Move Like...' game, sorting themselves into groups with different coloured bibs and moving like animals – butterflies, kangaroos, turtles – to pick up their number tags (yellow for odd numbers, red for evens).
The physical exercise of these engaging games is what generates the raw material of the curriculum work — the tags themselves. For maths there are numbers and for English there are letters and the word parts that make up phonics.
What learners and teachers can construct with these elements is almost infinite, and the techniques can be extended to bring in the computational thinking element of the computing curriculum too. There are around 100 games and growing as feedback goes from users all over the world. They are stored and shared with customers via Google Drive.
'Schools in France and Australia brought a global dimension'
"The first batch of active learning games and ideas came from myself and fellow teachers," explains Bryn Llewellyn. "The pioneer Tagtiv8 schools then took the concept of active learning to the next level. Children were encouraged to create their own games with rules, scoring systems and strategies, which were then shared with other Tagtiv8 schools.
“By getting schools from France and Australia on board we brought in a global dimension. Children in Sydney were getting excited by the fact that the games they had created were being played in London and so forth. We have since been approached by teachers to create Tagtiv8 versions for modern languages and computing, which is proving challenging and enjoyable in equal measures.”
The numbers challenge for the Lordship Lane Year 1s was simple; order the number tags from small to large. Toning down the natural excitement helped the focus and it didn’t take long to see how these learners' familiarity with small numbers didn’t always extend to the larger ones. Useful feedback for teachers that could also include some surprises.
The children's engagement was palpable – immediate and 100 per cent. The structure of the games It was also a first exposure to Tagtiv8 for Year 1 teacher Lesley Harris and the her enjoyment was evident too, particularly being able to see her learners in a completely new context.
"For me it was a great opportunity to stand back and watch my children attempt and excel at tasks I've never seen them do before," she says. "It was wonderful to see their effort and engagement, and a sense of achievement was felt by all."
Activities ramped up with the age groups
The exercise – physical and mental – was ramped up for the Year 3s. Out came the Velcro belts to go over the coloured tunics and each child attached two number tags, one on each hip.
The aim was to pick up tags from each other and then run back and collect them in plastic baskets for later challenges. The children holding the baskets were then released to run and chase new tags, and so on. The maths challenge was to use the tag numbers to discover multiples of 10.
The energy levels shot up and within minutes I was seeing children sweating as they did maths — the right kind of sweating! And they showed they were perfectly capable of organising themselves without a hint of fractiousness. which was a relief for Year 3 teacher Ashley Baxendale.
"There was a very positive and purposeful atmosphere that pervaded all aspects of the learning activity," he says. "Adults were able to engage with individuals or whole groups of children while the task was being undertaken. This ensured that understanding and progress was shared across the class.
"Furthermore, explicit links were made between what had been learned and how that knowledge and understand could be used in other areas of the curriculum."
While Tagtiv8 appears like a mainstream education business, in reality it’s a startup. There are products – kits that include the coloured bibs, Velcro belts and tags and handbooks (all the other text materials, including games, are online) – which schools could buy and embed themselves. However, the best traction comes from getting Bryn Llewellyn or a colleague to come into school to work with classes and run CPD for teachers.
“Whenever I co-deliver a Tagtiv8 session with teachers, they invariably say, 'I didn't know they could do that – they've never written that in their maths books or shown me that in the maths lesson,'" explains Bryn Llewellyn. "With this in mind, we are working with a research team from Leeds Beckett University to prove impact on cognition, measuring the data scientifically so that the evidence is not just anecdotal.”
Tagtiv8 also driven by technology and social media
Tagtiv8 certainly heightens the learning through physical activity, but it is also driven by technology. The materials and games are shared and distributed online and Bryn is an adept user of social networking and events like TeachMeets to help build awareness and the business.
“School leaders and teachers are under an inordinate amount of pressure, meaning that many are unaware of the new approaches, ideas and resources available to them," adds Bryn Llewellyn. "Much of the interest in Tagtiv8's active learning approaches comes from TeachMeets, Twitter and online educational chats, as well as events such as Northern Rocks, Pedagoo Hampshire and Practical Pedagogies – places where innovative educators can share and learn collectively.”
Bryn Llewellyn began scoping out the idea for Tagtiv8 in 2012 and by 2013 had started the company. In the years years since he left the classroom he has built up a national and international presence for Tagtiv8. And the most telling feedback comes from his customers. The headteacher at Lordship Lane Primary School is Michelle Bates who came across Bryn and Tagtiv8 through a local TeachMeet event.
"After Bryn and I swapped details I looked up Tagtiv8 online," explains Michelle Bates. "It sounded like such a fantastic way to engage the children at Lordship Lane.
"Initially I invited Bryn in to do some work with my Year 5 cohort. The children loved it, and so did I! I knew it was important to share this excellent practice with the rest of my team and invited Bryn in to work with all the year groups at school and lead on some CPD for staff. It was fantastic and got all the staff thinking about active learning techniques using Tagtiv8. It was fantastic to see the PE coordinator and the maths coordinators teaming up to plan future opportunities.
"We will most certainly be planning our own games and sharing them with the rest of the Tagtiv8 connections!"