Thinking outside the box by learning with grids

Jo Conway

Jo Conway taught in Primary schools for 25 years. Her interests now lie in educational and neurological research into how young children learn effectively, and how this research can be encapsulated into ‘active learning’ products, as well as how it can be utilised by teachers and importantly parents too in supporting children at home.

Jo's teaching experience and interests were her motivation in devising and patenting her numeracy and phonic multifunctional board and magnetic tile resource – Adaptaboard. She has ensured that Adaptaboard has evolved over time to support the New Curriculum and challenge children of all abilities throughout the Primary Years.

Her two new products (available at are:

  • Adaptaboard Advanced Triple Maths (60150) - Supporting Shanghai Maths Mastery
  • Adaptaboard Systematic Synthetic Phonics (60140)  - UK Government 'criteria passing' and supporting any full programme –

Independent Review:

Selected product range and UK distributor: [] - / 01453 731724

Website: Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Image Credit: Tumblr Image Credit: Tumblr

The educational range and educational opportunities offered by a grid are endless. To meet the challenges of the New Maths Mastery and Synthetic Phonic Curriculum, we are told we need to adapt and embrace change. With the ever-changing Curriculum, teachers feel stressed and exhausted. Now is the time for some stability and consistency in teaching and learning. The research by Carol Dweck, Jo Boaler, John Hattie and others needs to be put into active practice. We know now, as highlighted in the 'Life Chances for All' speech, so much more about how children learn effectively and the importance of children's health and wellbeing in this pursuit. How can we now effectively and efficiently achieve successful outcomes for all?

When young children are given the opportunity to create pictorial and graphical representations for abstract concepts on a grid, their comprehension of these concepts greatly increase. These images and patterns help children ‘link and connect’ essential concepts in a very powerful way. For example, in Maths the graphic ‘array’ of 3 lots of 4 tiles can also be seen as 4 lots of 3 tiles. 12 tiles divided by 3 can be seen as 4, and 12 tiles divided by 4 can be seen as 3. Linking and connecting multiplication and division in a memory enhancing way - visual memory with real meaning.

Children do, however, encounter some real barriers to learning. One early barrier is the mastering of fine motor skills. This is especially evident in boys. Writing skills, drawing squares, boxes, bars and graphs do not need to be barriers to acquiring essential knowledge and skills. The solution "One early barrier is the mastering of fine motor skills."to this particular obstacle is to provide the creative and innovative opportunities offered by magnetic tiles and a grid. I’ve found that a practical gridded board and tile resource has ‘easily linked with other practical equipment such as Dienes apparatus, Cuisenaire rods and even cubes and counters’. Just what the teacher ordered for children’s increased confidence and self esteem.

It has been identified in the Save the Children report 2016 'Lighting up Young Brains' that the effective acquisition of basic knowledge and skills can take place much earlier than we ever thought possible. We must therefore provide the perfect environment and resources for this essential learning to take place. Providing appropriate 'barrier-free' resources takes the stress and anxiety out of learning for many children enabling them to freely and actively take part in the learning process. Learning and trusting social relationships are often made for life at this time.

Paper and pencil skills are amazingly not essential to the acquisition of basic knowledge and skills. This is when many children feel failures and become disengaged so early. We can provide active 'brain stimulating' activities when using ‘hands-on’ resources and prevent learning 'gridlock'. Preventing this at a later date can be so much more difficult to handle. We must give children the time, space and variety of practice to both enthuse and inspire. When children collaborate with peers and adults alike they enjoy their learning experiences.

Unfortunately, many children are entering school without basic communication skills, but we can increase children’s communication dexterity daily by providing active learning. This kind of education enables children to freely ask and answer questions. When they are actively involved and engrossed in activities, pupils freely communicate and collaborate, and this involvement and participation enables young children to feel less anxious and stressed. They are then better able to verbalise their thoughts and feelings to others - so good for children's future understanding, health, wellbeing and development. We as adults know that when we are trying to help someone to do something it is so much easier to have something concrete in our hands to actively demonstrate and explain the solution to the problem. Let’s help our children in the same way and see the pieces of the bigger jigsaw puzzle fall into place.

It is often thought that teachers should speak more, not less, for effective teaching and learning to take place. However, using manipulative resources teachers can observe and importantly listen to children while they actively solve problems. This is so informative for future planning. Children appreciate being given the time and space to grow and 'play' with numbers and phonics in a creative, innovative and yet structured and progressive way.

All this takes place without the dreaded ‘death by worksheet’ setting in. The enthusiasm for learning we all crave can be achieved. So many visual images feed into children’s deeper understanding of concepts. The teaching, learning and practicing opportunities available really are endless, and graphic work cards can tell it all. Differentiated challenges promote 'can-do' mindsets. Adapting to children's learning needs really works when using a grid because of the endless opportunities and possibilities. We can provide an easier and more fulfilling experience for all. We’ve always known that one size does not fit all, so let’s adapt and provide differentiated tasks with that in mind. Move a tile or two, and hey presto, a whole new challenge appears and children love challenges.

A ‘digital detox' and a blast of active learning is called for. A thumbs up or thumbs down on a computer screen tells teachers very little about how children think, reason and process information when problem-solving. Without this valuable information, children can easily become problem-finders instead of problem-solvers. Extensive research taken place by John Hattie has compared the effect of different educational interventions and placed the results on a scale from most to least effective. Computer learning is not found high up this scale when influencing the quality of both teaching and learning in the classroom - a surprise result for most adults. Peer interaction, however, comes high up the scale, so let’s encourage true interactive grid learning and the development of listening skills.

Open and closed questioning enables misunderstandings to be both identified and rectified. Using manipulative open-ended resources like a grid, teachers assess children on a daily basis. Using closed questioning, a child can be presented with 3 add 2. There’s only one answer: 5. However, when teachers ask how many different ways there are to make the number 5, the task suddenly becomes an open ended exciting challenge. It’s great for children to realise there’s often more than one correct answer to a problem. Grid images help children pictorially ‘see’’ the answers and the many strategies that can be used to find these answers. Over a period of time and with lots of varied practice the resources that supported this learning are miraculously no longer needed as the visual images have taken their place in children’s long term memory. As working with smaller numbers is secured, larger numbers become another exciting challenge. Learning must be viewed as progressive and built on 'step by step' in a developmental way. Using this common sense approach solid foundations are laid for future learning and 'gaps' in knowledge and skills are not allowed to 'widen'. After 25 years teaching, the saying 'I see, I do, I understand' still rings true with me. Children up to 11 and beyond really do love using "The vast selection of puzzles, games and activities that utilise a grid are endless."active ‘hands-on’ resources – just look at the popularity and success of manipulative bricks. In children’s minds ‘learning through play’ does not feel like learning at all but a variety of exciting and stimulating challenges.

The vast selection of logic, sequencing, number and phonic crosswords, puzzles, games and activities that utilise a grid are endless and can so easily be differentiated depending on age. An addition or multiplication square game can involve actively filling in just 15 squares on a grid or 100 squares depending on ability. The games can be played by 2, 3 or 4 children and the adaptability and ease of setting up activities is a great plus for teachers. A grid accommodating a 0-110 board, addition and subtraction, multiplication and division and systematic synthetic phonics is a truly adaptable resource. Children and adults enjoy playing games, fun and learning can go together when learning The Basics.

Numerous activities using a grid are available on the web. While playing games children learn to 'play by the rules' and in the process gain all the 'character building traits' we are all so keen to instil. The acquiring of these traits, from the earliest of stages, is so important to children's development and future employability. The traits of, for example, perseverance, concentration, confidence, motivation, tolerance, respect and curiosity create a responsible, thinking and reasoning next generation.

The Basics are the roots that support our growing youngsters through life. Helping them to flourish and build solid foundations for future lifelong learning. Let's feed children's innate curiosity, from the earliest of stages, by providing - a magnetically appealing 'Grid for Learning'.

Do you use grids to broaden pupil horizons? Let us know below!

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