Derry teacher’s maths tool helps learning

Franz Schlindwein and his son Lorcan playing with Izak9 cubes.
Franz Schlindwein and his son Lorcan playing with Izak9 cubes.

A method of teaching maths invented by a former school teacher from Derry is improving pupil engagement in the subject right up to GCSE level.

‘Izak9’, designed by Franz Schlindwein, is a unique learning resource which consists of 27 cubes - with different combinations of colour, number and shape.

It is designed to stimulate mathematical thinking and interaction among primary or secondary level pupils with the help of animated on-screen characters named Helix and Abacus.

Now a new pilot study conducted in schools across Northern Ireland has found that revolutionary learning resource ‘Izak9’ provides a “new stimulus” for teaching maths and numeracy in both primary and post primary classrooms.

‘Izak9’ has amassed growing popularity at primary level but a new study has shown the resource can have a hugely positive influence in both the teaching of maths and the improvement of pupil engagement right up to GCSE level.

A key finding of the recent study is that the resource “has provided a new stimulus for teachers of maths and numeracy in both primary and post primary - which has proved engaging and motivating for their students.”

The pilot was initiated by the Education Authority NI CPD Transition Project Director, Aidan Lennon, to evaluate what impact the use Izak9 may have in creating a forum for primary and post primary teachers to interact. The study was carried out in 10 schools (five primary and five partner post primary schools, two from each Education Authority region) during the 2015-16 academic year.

The research found that the most significant outcome of the study was the “impact” on pupil’s skills in working with others, managing information, problem solving, decision making, communicating mathematically and thinking flexibly.

“Their enjoyment and engagement have both been much higher when using Izak9, as has their confidence and willingness to take risks and try out different methods,” the study report states.

The report further highlights that the use of Izak9 provided “opportunities” for pupils to discuss strategies for tackling maths tasks and investigate different approaches or solutions.

It also concludes that Izak9 supported teachers in encouraging a ‘can do’ attitude in pupils.

The report states that pupils were “less afraid to have a go and attempt a task” using Izak9, when perhaps in a written format they would have “taken fewer risks for learning”.

Izak9 was also found to have increased the “stickability” of pupils when confronted with a tougher mathematical challenge. The findings outline that the kinaesthetic (or tactile) nature of the cubes “appears to be one big advantage of this resource, with pupils very keen to use them.”

The report states the fact that the use of the resource showed benefits from P1 to Year 11 “demonstrated the flexibility of Izak9 and the creativity of teachers in taking it and making its use relevant in a wide range of contexts.”

A key element of the study was the partnership aspect, which involved teachers from both phases being “brought together” to share leading practice and explore how others employed Izak9 in developing their pupils’ skills.

Izak9 creator and former maths teacher Franz Schlindwein said he was absolutely delighted at the outcomes of project.

The study was published hot on the heels of a joint research project by Queens University Belfast and Trinity College Dublin which found that use of Izak9 could increase girls’ enjoyment of mathematics and suggested it could help off-set the gender imbalance in tertiary level STEM uptake.