The Targetboard Project

In our May edition of Anseo.net, I wrote about how I thought one could use Google Apps to support a collaborative Mental Maths project using Targetboards.   I launched Targetboard.net and tried to drum up as much support for the project as possible before we began on June 7th.
Thanks to the support of mailing lists such as CESI and DICTAT and from the many retweets of my Twitter friends, over 50 schools signed up for the project from all parts of the country.  I had no idea whether Google Docs could support that many people collaborating at once but I lived in hope.
On June 7th at about 9:30am, I logged on to my Google account and started up the slideshow where the Targetboard would appear at 10am.  I was heartened to see two schools already logged in.  By the time it reached the magic hour, there were 7 schools frantically typing solutions to reach 20 in the five minute session.  I intermittently sent words of encouragement to the participants and the five minutes came and went incredibly quickly.
Even more schools logged in on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  It was brilliant to see the number of solutions gushing down the screen.  Some schools took on personal challenges of using all 9 numbers in the grid to solve the target number.  Some schools learned some tricks to get their answers in more quickly – copy and pasting a list of answers proved quite popular!  However, overall the schools seemed to get a great buzz from mental maths.  The tiny competitive streak involved in the exercise gave huge motivation.  And the prize?  Nothing. The only thing that was up for grabs was the glory of being the school to have the most unique solutions to the targetboard.
I was lucky enough to sit in a classroom where the Targetboard was going on in my school.  The classroom teacher was working with her pupils and the atmosphere in the room from everybody was electrifying.  All sorts of emotions were on show – excitement, panic and pride.  The conversations were super and the collaboration between everyone in the room was brilliant.
The teacher commented upon the democratisation the project had on her class.  Children all felt equal. They were able to work at their own level and they were able to succeed in some way at the board. Some children became pseudo-heroes for part of the week such was their talent for spotting solutions.
On my part, moderating the project proved a little more difficult that first anticipated.  While watching the project and giving words of encouragement during the project was easy, collating the results each day was time consuming and not as easy as I’d hoped.
The main thing I didn’t realise was that Google App’s sidebar for discussions is written in Flash, which means I couldn’t copy and paste the answers into a separate document to delete duplicate answers and sort them into an easy way to read them.  Unfortunately, I had to manually go through each answer and check that no one else had done the same.  Thankfully the number of participants was low enough to do this within an hour.  However, obviously this would not be something I could do everyday.
To end the project, all participants were sent web badges to thank them for their participation.  An email went out to thank them for their support and a wish for the project to happen again, perhaps during Maths Week 2012.
So what next for Targetboard?  I do hope that we can do the project again some time.  If it were to be done on a larger scale, I guess we would have to build a more automated program, which could give instant feedback at the end without the need for manually compiling the solutions.  In the meantime, seeing as I bought the domain, I might as well get some use out of it!  I’m going to expand its use from just Maths Targetboards to other grid-type mental starters in subjects such as English and Irish.
As I stated near the beginning of the article, projects like these rely completely on the goodwill of friends, colleagues and various supportive organisations.  Projects like these have no commercial value but have potentially huge educational value and thus have no budget.  I’d like to once again thank anyone who tweeted about the project, the schools who linked to the web site from their own, the CESI and DICTAT mailing lists for allowing me to publicise the event and of course all the children who gave up their time everyday for a week to ready, steady, think.

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