How Scotland’s Sumdog got millions of deprived kids loving maths

By Kitty Knowles 1 September 2017

"This should be called Fundog, not Sumdog."

How were you taught maths?

Mindless recitations of your ‘times tables’? Endless seemingly soulless calculations on squared paper?

For many kids, traditional teaching methods just don’t work: they’re not ‘fun’ compared to messy hands-on art, imaginative creative writing, or explosive science experiments.

Disengagement with the subject is even more acute in deprived areas, where children consistently fall behind wealthier peers.

“Our core mission is to help close that gap,” Sumdog founder and CEO Andrew Hall told The Memo.

“We’re making maths learning fun.”

Each place on the map gives kids a different game where they can practice their assigned skills.

Millions already hooked

Launched in 2010 in Edinburgh, Sumdog is now used by 3 million children in 88 countries around the world.

Kids are playing its mobile and web games in 25% of UK schools, in half of all Scottish schools, and in around 20% of all US schools.

But Hall isn’t stopping there.

“We have a five-year plan to have helped 15 million children across the UK and the US by 2022,” he says.

Sumdog recently raised £1.4m from Nesta Impact Investments and the Scottish Investment Bank to help it achieve this aim.

What’s the secret sauce?

You won’t be surprised to hear that Sumdog is game-based, with 40 different online activities to choose from.

All of these are aligned to British and American curriculum, with some apps even now available in 3D.

“In order to progress within those games, pupils need to answer a series of maths and English questions,” explains Hall.

And built around every game are three elements that make Sumdog stand out as exceptional.

Firstly, its games are genuinely fun and engage all children of any ability (a rather wonderful recommendation on Sumdog’s website reads ‘this should be called Fundog, not Sumdog’).

Secondly, Sumdog uses an algorithm to make sure that pupils master each skill before moving on. Nothing gets missed, two pupils might play the same game, but with different levels of questions.

Finally, by offering individual user accounts for pupils, parents and teachers, everyone can see and support the best ‘real-life’ teaching around Sumdog possible.

Already, independent studies in Glasgow and Texas have confirmed that Sumdog’s three-prong approach proactively helps children who’ve fallen behind.

“Rather than feeling disheartened or demotivated, as some pupils currently do, we want all pupils to have the confidence to believe they can do maths,” says Hall.

An uphill battle

Transforming the classroom is not without its challenges, of course.

Funding for education in the UK and in the US is continually under pressure.

IT equipment is often old or harder to access, and there’s often a lack of budget to close this gap.

Ultimately however, Hall dreams of Sumdog becoming a world-leader in digital education: “the ‘go to’ company for pupils, teachers and parents”.

“I’d like to see a future where education technology companies such as ourselves are able to work in harmony with teachers, giving them the tools to tailor their teaching to individual pupils and ensure no pupil gets left behind,” he says.

Every deserves a good education, and ‘fun education’ is a great way to make that happen.

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