X Close

Child Development and Learning Difficulties



Archive for the 'Mathematical development' Category

Can Maths Apps Add Value to Learning?

By Admin, on 26 September 2021

By Dr Laura Outhwaite


Educational maths applications (apps) are an emerging trend in children’s learning environments aiming to raise achievement.

However, determining whether or what kind of maths apps provide a high-quality learning experience is a significant challenge. Current sources of advice rely on anecdotal evidence, while systematic guidelines focus on literacy apps. Teachers, parents, and policymakers need accessible and evidence-based information about what works with educational maths apps, in order to support them to make evidence-informed decisions on which apps to use with their children.

Our research funded by the Nuffield Foundation aims to address this need.

Our current systematic review has identified 50 studies that have evaluated 77 educational maths apps as a formal learning experience in school and at home with children in the first three years of compulsory school, using a broad range of quantitative and qualitative research methods. Emerging themes across the identified studies include: the role of the teacher/parent, children’s engagement with app-based maths instruction, and the importance of considering children’s language skills when using educational apps.

In the next phase of the research project, we are examining the mechanisms underpinning how maths apps might work. To do this, we are conducting a content analysis of mathematical content and design features of the maths apps identified in the systematic review. Initial results examining the links between these features and children’s learning outcomes with the apps suggest that the combination of feedback that both motivates children and explains why an answer is correct or incorrect, together with scaffolded levelling that is personalised and adaptive to the individual child, are necessary app design features for enhancing learning outcomes with educational maths apps.

Overall, this study is highly relevant to current educational policy and practice surrounding the increased use of technology for raising attainment and will provide robust evidence resulting in a better understanding of educational maths apps for young children.

For more information, please contact Dr Laura Outhwaite (l.outhwaite@ucl.ac.uk)


Developmental Dyscalculia

By Admin, on 22 September 2021

By Erica Ranzato


Mathematics is an important life skill. Research findings tell us that individuals with poor numeracy skills have poorer educational prospects, earn less, and are more likely to be unemployed, in trouble with the law and to be sick (Parsons and Bynner, 2005). Moreover, poor mathematical abilities affect not only the individual but bear an impact on the whole society. The accountancy firm KPMG estimated that the cost to the UK of poor mathematical abilities in terms of lost direct and indirect taxes, unemployment benefits, justice costs and additional educational costs was £2.4 billion per year (Gross et al., 2009).

There are many causes that can explain difficulties with mathematics. For example, a low intellectual level, attention difficulties, use of inadequate strategies, or limited numeracy learning experiences. One cause of poor mathematical abilities is developmental dyscalculia – from now on we will refer to it as dyscalculia. Dyscalculia is a learning difficulty with neurobiological origins that can persist into adulthood. At the heart of dyscalculia there is a difficulty with learning maths, despite an IQ within the typical range, that is not caused by difficulties experienced in formal education (such as prolonged absence from school through illness, etc) or other social settings.

Dyscalculia is a heterogeneous disability but, generally, people with dyscalculia experience difficulties with the most basic aspects
of number processing and arithmetic. These learning difficulties manifest in different ways depending on the age of the person, and the setting – i.e., not only in the school environment but in their everyday life, for example, when they have to tell the time. In his book More Trouble with Maths, Steve Chinn lists 31 indicators/behaviours with the aim of providing a checklist that can be used by a teacher, a parent or an adult learner as a screening survey of mathematics learning difficulties and dyscalculia. Some of them are reported below:

  • Find it difficult to “see” that 4 objects are 4 without counting
  • Difficulties with counting (e.g. lack of one-to-one correspondence)
  • Find it much harder to count backwards compared to counting forward
  • Has difficulty retrieving addition facts from memory
  • Counts all the numbers when adding
  • Has poor skills with money
  • Finds it difficult to write numbers which have zeros within them
  • Difficulties with estimating
  • When solving columnar operation does not line up columns of number properly
  • Writes 51 for 15
  • Struggles with mental arithmetic
  • Learns multiplications facts, but then forgets them overnight
  • Gets very anxious about doing any mathematics
  • Shows inability to “see patterns” or generalize


In 2008, the UK Government Office for Science published a report as a result of the project “Mental Capital and Wellbeing: Making the most of ourselves in the 21st century” where the following recommendation was made:

“Because of its low profile but high impacts, [Dyscalculia’s] impact should be raised. Dyscalculia relates to numeracy and affects between 4-7% of children. It has a much lower profile than dyslexia but can also have substantial impacts: it can reduce lifetime earnings by £114,000 and reduce the probability of achieving five or more GCSEs (A-C) by 7- 20 percentage points.”

Dyscalculia does not have a high public profile such as other learning difficulties – e.g. dyslexia -, but since 2008 Dyscalculia and maths learning difficulties have received more attention (Butterworth, 2018). There are now helpful websites – you can find some listed in the references – and the British Dyslexia Association now recognise it as a separate learning difficulty from dyslexia and has started courses to qualify teachers in teaching learners with specific learning difficulties/dyscalculia. This accreditation enables teachers and practitioners to conduct informal, curriculum-based assessments and deliver specialist teaching programmes to learners up to 18 years of age.


Butterworth, B. (2018). Dyscalculia: from science to education. Imprint Routledge

Bynner J. & Parson, S. (2005). Does numeracy matter? London. Basic Skills Agency

Chinn S. (2017). More trouble with maths: a complete manual to identify and diagnose mathematical difficulties. Second edition. Imprint Routledge.

Gross J., Hudson, C., & Price, D. (2009). The long term costs of numeracy difficulties

Useful websites:

http://www.ronitbird.com/dyscalculia/ https://www.smartickmethod.com/blog/education/psychology/dyscalculia- detected/



Educational Maths Apps with Young Children: 3 Things to Consider

By Admin, on 16 December 2020

By Laura Outhwaite

Educational maths apps are increasingly popular with children, parents, and teachers alike. But technology alone will not equal effective learning. In this blog, we talk through three important things to consider when using educational maths apps with young children.

Children’s language abilities

Recent research with the onebillion maths apps has shown that young children can use these apps independently and show significant learning gains in early mathematics. However, it is also important to consider the child’s language proficiency in the language of instruction offered within these types of maths apps. Intervention research shows young bilingual children who used the onebillion maths apps made significant gains in mathematical achievement, compared to a business as usual control group. But those with stronger proficiencies in the language of instruction made significantly more progress than those with lower language proficiencies. Likewise, review evidence suggests educational apps are better suited for children over 4 years compared to younger children under 3 years, which may in part be related to children’s developing language skills. Overall, this highlights the importance of considering the individual child’s language abilities- can they effectively understand and access the learning content in this app-based format?

Parents and children using apps together

Other maths apps, such as Bedtime Math app, has also shown positive benefits for young children and their parents. These types of apps actively encourage parents and children to use the app together. In Bedtime Math, parents and children read a short bedtime story, which then includes a related maths-based problem, which they can discuss and solve together. Research in the USA found significant benefits to children’s maths outcomes, particularly for children whose parents reported feeling anxious towards maths.

How do I choose a high-quality app?

With over half a million educational maths apps available on the Apple Store, it is not surprising that it can sometimes feel overwhelming for parents and teachers, hoping to find high-quality apps to use with their child. Currently, there are some websites providing advice and guidance based on anecdotal evidence. However, more evidence-based guidelines focus on literacy apps. We are currently developing evidence-based solutions for maths apps, through our Nuffield-funded project ‘Can Maths Apps Add Value to Learning?

Where can I find out more information?

Contact Dr Laura Outhwaite l.outhwaite@ucl.ac.uk