Can you increase attainment in maths and literacy through video games and animation? With funding from The Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Signals is running Digital Core, a 2-year project working with primary schools across Essex to do exactly that.

Now over halfway through the project,  Education Co-ordinator Jess White shines a light on her work so far with the three schools involved so far (Sir Martin Frobisher Academy, Gt Leighs and Stanway Primary School) and her work with Games Tutor Dave Norton and Animation Tutor Emma Curtis.

Education Coordinator Jess White delivering her workshop at Sir Martin Frobisher School

Sir Martin Frobisher Academy

The first school Emma and I worked with was Sir Martin Frobisher Academy in Jaywalk, and Enterprise a year 5 class.

Enterprise created an animated film about a time-travelling Shakespeare, who uses maths to reach his next destination. We began the process by coming up with the story; the children worked in small teams using the storyboard process to visualise their ideas and then create each scene of the film. Children had project workbooks, which they used to solve the maths challenges first, before these were then included in the animation.

The children created all of the artwork for the animation, which included the backgrounds, characters and props. These were all hand-drawn, cutout and coloured by the children.

Every child had the opportunity to animate, using the rostrum and our professional Dragon animation software. Working in a separate space to the classroom, children worked in pairs with one taking the images using the dragon software and the other child moving the characters and props for each frame of the animation.

Each day, we would screen the footage so the children could see their progress so far – they loved seeing what they had made on screen.

At the end of the project, the raw animation files were taken back to Signals to be edited together and polished up by Jack King.

When the animation was completed we screened the film at the school the children loved seeing their artwork and called out whenever they saw anything they had made. There was a real sense of pride and achievement!

Stanway Primary School

The second school we worked with was Stanway Primary School in Colchester. We worked with pupils to create maths-themed video games using Scratch, a free piece of software for learning to code.

Working with all of the year 5 pupils, games tutor Dave Norton gave the children programming tutorials in Scratch so they could learn how to create different types of games. They were then split into games companies, and tasked with working together to make a game. They had to design the artwork, code each individual level of their game and then create the sounds, using more free programming software – Sonic Pi.

I discovered from this project, that initially girls underestimated their ability in computing, whereas the boys were more confident. However, the girls actually proved to be stronger coders showing more patience and resilience to work things out. I was very impressed by how the children all managed to work well together and create their own games.

We also learned that pupils who struggle with concentration or who usually misbehave were very engaged during our project. This is because they have a love of games, so they want to know how to code, in order to make their own games. Click below to play their games online.

A maths challenge from one of the pupils at Stanway Primary School. Click the image to try it out for yourself.

Gt Leighs Primary School

The third school we worked with was Gt Leighs Primary School in Chelmsford with the year 5 Mole class. We delivered a space themed animation project to demonstrate how they would work out their maths challenges using cut-out animation. 

First, the children designed all of the characters, backgrounds and props for the animation, followed by solving the maths problems and then recording the voice-overs for the story.

The children worked in small groups to animate with Emma and I in the music room, using the rostrum and dragon animation software.

This animation has very detailed long multiplication, subtraction and addition in it – making it a useful resource for other teachers and children to use when learning how to work out the maths challenges.

Sir Martin Frobisher Academy (pt.2)

The fourth project, and my final, was back at Sir Martin Frobisher Academy working with the Eclipse year 5 class to study the use of co-ordinates in maths.

Here we delivered the second games project, where David introduced the children to co-ordinates, getting them to create a grid on the floor and to plot different positions. This really enabled the children to understand how you need to know co-ordinates in order to position your character in a game and to make it move. The children were taught how to make different games, including a platform game, multiple choice ‘quiz’ game and ‘a point and click’ adventure game. The children each designed their own games, making characters out of plasticine and hand drawing the backgrounds. Every child did all the coding for their own games, click the image below to play their games online.

A remake of the classic game ‘Pong’ by a student from Gt Leighs


Key findings

At over halfway through the project, I have observed that through games making and animation, children who are usually less engaged in class become far more engaged because animation and game making is something they want to learn. In the process of learning the skills to animate and create games, they realise the importance of maths and literacy, as they need to be good at both in order to animate and code.

Pupils involved in the Digital Core project have also gained increased confidence, communication, teamwork and creative problem solving skills. Pupils have seen improvement in their maths and literacy, through increased knowledge of certain subjects, such as using co-ordinates and improved vocabulary and creative writing.

It has been a pleasure working with pupils, teachers and tutors on the Digital Core project; it has been amazing to see what children have created in terms of their games and animations.

I think this kind of work is key in enabling children who may not usually have a ‘chance to shine’ to excel in creative ways of working, whilst also improving attainment in core subject areas too.

By: Jess White Education Co-ordinator & Digital Core Project Manager 2016/17