We caught up with Rob Percival and Simon Armitage (Assistant Head at The Perse School) to hear about the partnership they have forged to develop intelligent feedback systems to support Maths teaching.
How did the partnership with Blutick and The Perse School come about?
Rob: I was looking at how maths was being taught using online systems in general and I was quite frustrated by what I saw. I found myself thinking that there must surely be a better way of using the capabilities of technology combined with excellent teaching to give students more confidence in their learning. There remains a major problem in the UK of many students not achieving pass grades in their maths. However, much of this is due to a lack of mathematical confidence for many students. I know that maths doesn’t have to be so daunting and that the right use of technology can help. When I met with The Perse, we immediately identified a shared ambition – the need for a better online maths product that addressed these challenges. Perhaps just as significantly, we identified the means to create the solution ourselves.
Simon: I joined The Perse School as Assistant Head (educational opportunities) at a great time for this conversation with Rob to evolve. My remit at The Perse is to expand the educational horizons of the school internationally and online. I was well aware that The Perse had incredible exam results, a particularly strong team of maths staff and a desire to use technology effectively. Creating Blutick Maths was a natural coalescence of The Perse’s and Rob’s own skill sets and experience. Little did we know it would snowball into what Blutick is today! For a school being involved with a start-up education technology enterprise is quite unusual, possibly unique. The chance to influence the design of Blutick with expertise from current maths teachers has been an amazing experience. We knew that our teachers would learn through their involvement and that was a strong motivation for The Perse getting involved. Right from the start, we established that the video content being created by our staff was going to be a useful asset for our internal purposes perhaps to assist with exam revision or homework.
What have been the unexpected advantages of building Blutick together?
Rob: The initial impetus behind the arrangement was content creation – Blutick needed a huge amount of video and question content, and quality teachers to do the creation, which we knew The Perse had. What I didn’t expect was how useful getting Blutick into classrooms at a very early stage would be.
Seeing teachers and students seeing the intelligent feedback for the first time was a joy-“it’s like magic!” said one student -, but more importantly was seeing the unexpected struggles they had and being able to help make a difference. A huge number of changes to the interface, such as the software keyboard, interactive calculator and the maths input system, as well as much of the intelligent feedback, came about from observing students using Blutick in the early days.
Simon: The wider benefits of taking Perse teaching to a wider audience through Blutick therefore produced a win-win situation. Whilst we continue to link to other schools through our own outreach program, the online reach of Blutick is inevitably far wider. Blutick is now already being trialed in a Multi-Academy Trust that has specifically identified problems with maths attainment and with recruiting and retaining staff.
Have there been any disadvantages?
Rob: Making all the changes and improvements based on the student observations wasn’t easy! It slowed down our overall development, but only in the best possible way. We’ve also had to explain our relationship with The Perse quite frequently, as it’s something people don’t expect, but it almost always turns out to be a benefit to users knowing there has been a school as respected as The Perse behind Blutick from the beginning.
Simon: Schools are busy places and teachers’ first priorities are always, rightly, their current students. A start-up company has its own timescale and path of evolution that clearly doesn’t conform to term times and the length of a lesson. However, when there is a shared goal, obstacles can be overcome.
What is the relationship now that Blutick has launched?
Rob: I’ve been really pleased with how our relationship has evolved. Content creation is now a small part of the relationship and The Perse have become big users of the platform and have continued offering advice and requesting features as their use of it has evolved.
It is also invaluable having teachers and in-school advisers to provide expert advice and guidance.
Simon: The Perse School continues to support Blutick and be involved with the project at every step. We are providing ongoing advice in the pedagogy to make sure that the artificial intelligence evolves in the most helpful way to give students the confidence that helps their learning.
What do you anticipate might happen in the future?
Rob: Blutick will continue to evolve, to meet the needs of students and teachers, in order to have the greatest impact. We also intend to extend to other subjects, which will require more content, advice, testing and support which we hope will link The Perse and Blutick for many years to come!
Simon: Technology, especially with the evolution of artificial intelligence, has the potential to influence the way our children learn in school and at home as never before. At the moment, national levels of achievement are variable and the number of maths teachers simply doesn’t match the demand. Maintaining the status quo isn’t really an option to resolve these issues. We are delighted that The Perse is in at the birth of an innovative company that can help with this global challenge. We will continue to give advice and guidance on the teaching and learning methods that Blutick is using, as well as to make sure it is absolutely spot on with regard to examination syllabuses.
Blutick is an AI Maths teaching and learning platform for secondary school students. It grew out of a partnership between teacher and entrepreneur Rob Percival and The Perse School in Cambridge.