Helping to boost kids’ confidence with maths

Adult numeracy in the UK appears to be in decline, and maths anxiety widespread. Using digital technology, we’re linking maths and play, building positive attitudes to learning maths among primary school children.

The big issues

Research shows that many children experience feelings of anxiety when confronted by maths, and that anxiety may be contributing to a dip in numeracy among adults in the UK. Often, this anxiety can be traced back to early experiences at primary school when maths is first taught as a distinct subject. During this transition, some children move quite abruptly from the structured play of pre-school environments to formal written exercises.

Our response

After a successful pilot experiment, our project brings together researchers, a software developer, a school leader and young pupils to develop an innovative, AI-driven app for use in primary schools.

Our app aims to explore links between children’s play with wooden blocks and the more formal language of early years maths teaching. We’ll investigate what happens when AI-driven object recognition enables young children, who may not yet be literate in written English, to create music and maths through computer-generated sounds, words and images triggered by real-world play.

In collaboration with St Andrew’s Church School in Bath, we’ll investigate how children play with blocks differently when audio feedback encourages them to imagine that the blocks represent numbers or musical tones.

The benefits

We believe the app has transformative potential, opening possibilities for engaging classroom learning of maths, music and more. We also anticipate it will lead to deeper insights into anxieties about starting school and the early years of education.

Our collaborative app development will continue, as we ultimately aim to create a low-cost setup that’s easy and affordable for schools to utilise. By co-designing tasks, establishing a methodology for analysing interactions and publishing our trial results, we hope to secure further funding that will enable our project to help foster children’s positive relationships with maths and learning.


  • Prof. Alf Coles
  • Michael Rumbelow
  • Sergio Canu
  • Jayne Rochford-Smith


  • Pysource
  • St Andrew’s Church School


Developing an AI app to enable young children to create music and maths through play with wooden blocks

Want to find out what we’ve been up to in the past year?

Download the BDFI Impact Report (PDF, 7,156kB)

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