'Cars Maths in Motion' software - 30 years on the clock and now reaching 100,000 students a year
If there was an award for educational software longevity, a lead contender would, without doubt, be Cars Maths in Motion from St Ives-based Cambridgeshire Software House. CSH started producing educational software in 1979 under the leadership of Brian and Wendy Richardson and, since then, has published more than 500 software titles – all specifically aimed at the classroom.
And the Cars simulation software is the cornerstone of the biggest national maths challenge of its kind with more than 100,000 students taking part each year – The Jaguar Maths in Motion Challenge for Schools.
The Cars software is a 'true to life' simulation that places students aged 8 to 16 at the heart of the competitive world of motor racing. They are responsible for setting up their own 'virtual' racing car and then 'racing' it against the cars that have been produced by others, sometimes on a truly global basis.
To set up a car well requires some practical work (measuring and scale) and a range of basic mathematical skills to be understood and applied. Once that has been done, you just need to develop your race strategy and get yourself on to the starting grid, And therein lies the secret of its success – the better you do your maths, the better your car will perform!
At the heart of the software is real data from actual race tracks and racing cars. Students working in teams have to set up a ‘virtual’ car that will react and race according to their mathematics, race strategy and planning. They will also need to touch on engine tuning, aerodynamics, suspension and all things mechanical using a mathematical model – albeit at a level that is generally understandable! The activities are very engaging for STEM work which is why chief sponsor Jaguar Land Rover is so heavily committed to it – it introduces children (girls in particular) to the attractions of a career in engineering (see video below). The power comes from the ideas and challenges rather than crash, bang, wallop multimedia.
The Challenge, which is sponsored by Jaguar Land Rover, Toshiba, Silverstone Circuits and six other companies, has done much to improve the motivation in maths lessons throughout the U.K since it began almost 14 years ago but the Cars story starts well before that.
As CSH partner Brian Richardson recalls, "The original concept for the software came as far back as 1982. It took us two years to program and it was launched at a MAPE (Micros and Primary Education, since subsumed into Naace) Conference in March 1984. We first programmed the software on an Acorn Model B computer (the 'BBC') that had just 32K of RAM. It was loaded from an audio-cassette tape and, if you were lucky enough to have the technology work properly at the first attempt, this process would take just over nine minutes."
Won the first BETT Gold Award for Educational Software
Those early years saw many schools using the software to enthuse and motivate pupils who would not otherwise engage with mathematics, something that keeps it relevant to this day. By the end of the 1980s the program had won the very first BETT Exhibition Gold Award for Educational Software and several other major awards along the way. A TES reviewer commented at the time: "This software is unique. It deals with a 'real life situation' in a straightforward way and presents mathematics as a subject to be enjoyed, not feared. It is equally at home in the hands of high achievers as well as those who are less able. The concepts of teamwork, strategy and competition transfer very easily into the classroom."
"But then came the dreaded English National Curriculum," added Brian Richardson. "Where could you pigeonhole a piece of software like this? The simple answer was that teachers couldn't – it simply didn't fit the new rules. The English National Curriculum virtually killed the software off overnight." But Brian, his wife Wendy and their team (which now includes son Paul) decided to head into the overseas marketplace and published the software in Australia. Competitive sport in schools in Australia, linked to maths – that was one goal they just had to achieve. By the early 1990s there were almost as many schools using the software in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa as there had been in the UK and so the situation remained for the next 10 years.
However, out of the blue, the Government agency for ICT (Becta – closed by the Coalition Government) approached Brian and asked if the software could be used as part of the celebrations for Maths Year 2000 – the clock had apparently turned and Cars was now OK again. "A small competition was duly organised for 40 schools and the success of it was nothing short of breathtaking," explained Brian Richardson. "Teachers were reporting that students who had not attended maths lessons for some time suddenly wanted to get involved. They had children positively excited at the thought of getting their cars to go just that bit faster.
'Some children screaming and shouting when the race was running"
"They even had some children screaming and shouting when the race was running. As a Grand Finale to the competition, Becta asked Jaguar to host a National Final at its plant in Castle Bromwich, and Jaguar duly obliged. The rest as they say, is history!' In the 30 or so years that the program has been in publication, Brian estimates that well over 2 million children have used it and he now regularly meets teachers who wax lyrical about the days spent working on their 'cars' during their own primary school years.
Between November 2011 and May 2013, the software was completely reprogrammed for publication in the Cloud – a massive undertaking in itself. This has meant that the World of Cars Maths in Motion now not only has the UK Challenge for Schools under its wing, there is also an International Challenge for Schools and, as of January 2014, a Home User Challenge that is open to all comers worldwide.
The continuing success of the software reaches far beyond what one might normally expect. It is a Link Scheme for the British Science Association CREST Awards (which means it counts towards the ‘skills’ section of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award too), it is a big part of Jaguar Land Rover's global corporate social responsibility programme and has led to a National Centre for the Excellence in Teaching Mathematics accreditation. It was the mainstay of Jaguar Land Rover's successful bid to be awarded the BITC 'Responsible Business of the Year Award' for 2013 and so the story goes on! Here’s to the next 30 years!
If you are interested in joining in any of the Challenges, more information can be found on www.mathschallenge.org.uk and www.mathsinmotion.com.
Brian and his team can be contacted via:
The Jaguar Maths in Motion Challenge for Schools
CSH, 10 Cromwell Mews, St Ives, Cambridgeshire PE27 5HJ
Tel: 01480 301201
The Jaguar Maths in Motion Challenge for Schools 2013/14 is supported by:
Jaguar Limited, Cambridgeshire Software House, Silverstone Circuits Ltd, Toshiba, i-desk Solutions, Rapid Education, Kudlian Software, Rising Stars UK Ltd, Firestom Software, Anderton Tiger Radio and LSS Interactive.