Introducing the Komodo Bronze, Silver and Gold Medals



Some parents have asked what comes after the Black Belt and suggested a few great ideas. We didn’t want to downgrade the super-coolness of the Komodo black belt so we’ve gone for a way learners can keep on wearing it. After the black belt learners go onto Bronze, Silver and Gold Medals that pin onto their black belt. Here’s a little technical note – if you’re using an ipad or android tablet you’ll have to upgrade to the latest version 1.9 of the app to claim your medals.

Congratulations to our latest Black Belt Learners

Well done to our latest Komodo Black belt learners – all seventeen of you deserve a big cheer!





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What’s Changing in the Primary Maths Curriculum in 2014?



There’s a recurring debate about the best way to teach maths in schools. It involves teachers, politicians and the media – who of course love to whip up the intensity. The usual trigger for the annual frenzy is publishing the PISA international test tableswhich this year saw the UK a fair bit behind Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong. The debate also focuses on the merits of various teaching approaches. Should maths teaching be more traditional? Should the emphasis be more hands on group activity ?  More arithmetic? More creative problem solving?  In the midst of this debate the Government is soon changing the primary maths curriculum in England. All this may be disconcerting for parents, like us, who have children in the primary school system – so here is some useful information that sheds light on the maths curriculum changes coming in September 2014:

What’s Changing?

The government has published a new primary maths curriculum for Key Stages 1 and 2 which is to start in September 2014. The full document is here but here’s the gist:

  • It affects Key Stages 1 & 2 ( that’s all the primary maths curriculum) If you’re in Scotland, Ireland or elsewhere in the world these changes aren’t relevant – They’re just for England.
  • There’s more to learn – quite a few topics that used to be in secondary maths have been moved forward – such as long division and a more complex understanding of fractions
  • There is an increased emphasis on practice. “So pupils develop the ability to recall and apply knowledge rapidly and accurately”
  • Calculators are out!  - to be replaced by “mental fluency and the use of efficient written methods in the four mathematical operations”
  • The National Curriculum Levels are out! -  Schools will be free to decide how to report to parents on children’s progress. They will also be expected to report to parents on their children’s SATs results using 10 ability bands worked out on a national level. More here

What’s does this mean?

It’s always difficult to predict how changes will affect learners in schools. At first glance there appear to be many sensible changes however the real test is in how schools implement the new curriculum – and we won’t know this for a year or two. It’s worth remembering that curriculum is not everything – the biggest influence on your child’s learning will still be their teacher, the support they get at home and the school experience in general.

Where Next?

If you have a spare 30 minutes – yes I know how unlikely this is – you may find this BBC Radio 4 iPlayer programme interesting. It’s an overview on maths teaching today and it touches on some of the same issues in more detail.







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A Parent’s Guide to Visual Learning in Maths

visual models in maths

Half plus half equals one!

When we learn maths we develop understanding through visual models – these are “mental pictures” that explain a particular idea or concept. A “visual model” can be as simple as a using the slices of a cake to represent fractions, but they can explain some pretty complex ideas in advanced maths too. In this article I’m going to explore a few of the visual models we use in primary maths.

The Number Line

The number line

Most young learners are introduced to the number line at age 5 or 6. It’s a valuable visual model for progressing learners from counting one by one with their fingers towards memory recall of their number facts. Number lines really come into their own when learners see how they can split a calculation into two stages - making it easier to do:


I’ve written a previous blog article on number lines which goes into more detail. You can check it out here.


When learners first encounter multiplication they are usually introduced to Arrays.  An “Array” is  just 2D stack of counters as you can see:

Multiplication with arrays

Arrays are great because they also explain why it doesn’t matter which way round the numbers go in multiplication. In the case above you can see that four rows of six is the same as six rows of four – which explains why 4 x 6 is the same as 6 x 4  - otherwise known as the commutative law.

The Hundred Square

9-times-tables hundred square

The hundred square allows learners to create patterns out of ideas in maths. Take for example the nine times tables in the image above – the pattern shows us an easy method for learning the 9 times tables – you could get to 4 x 9 = 36  in two steps by thinking  4 x 10 = 40  and then 40 – 4 = 36.

In Komodo we use a variety of visual models for learning concepts in maths. This helps develop understanding and it also teaches children to think visually about maths – so when they’re faced with a tricky maths problem they’re equipped with a range of visual tools to apply. Using visual models also helps learners develop an intuitive feel for numbers – a “number sense”  that will stay with them for life.

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Design a Guy Competition



The Komodo guys are a weird bunch. They’re all shapes and sizes, half animal, half vegetable, super-heroes and monsters. No one really knows where they came from – some say they have special powers, others say they’re just plain crazy.

The Design a Guy Competition

All Komodo learners are invited to design and name their very own Komodo guy. Here are a few early entries to get your child’s imagination flowing:



Palm Guy by James


Clumsy the Clown

Clumsy the Clown by Kate

Flat Fish Guy

Flat Fish by Kate


The Prizes

  • The Winner will have their guy recreated by our illustrator and included in Komodo
  • The top 3 entries will get a copy of the super-cool “Papertoy Monsters” book
  • Parents of the Winner will receive a £20 Amazon gift code to help with last minute Christmas prezzies
  • There’ll be lots of certificates too


How to Enter

If you’re on Facebook:

  1. Take a photo of the picture
  2. Go to our Facebook Page
  3. “Like the Komodo Page”  - so you’re allowed write / add photos
  4. On the main page add each picture and write the name of the guy and the child’s first name
  5. Click on this thumbnail for a guide:



 Not on Facebook:

  1. Take a photo of the picture
  2. Attach and email it to along with the Guy’s name and the child’s first name
  3. We’ll then add the picture to the Facebook page

The Rules

  1. The competition is open to Komodo subscribers only
  2. Clare, our illustrator chooses the Winners
  3. Entries must be made before Wednesday 18th December
  4. Winners will be announced on Friday 20th December
  5. Maximum 3 entries per child
  6. By submitting an entry you agree to us publishing the image on our Facebook page or blog
  7. We’ll refer to children by first name only

[Update]  And the Winner is Zogger by Zahra




Look out for Zogger inside Komodo!

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Exam Time


All of our children will have to sit exams at some stage in their school career, for some of you it starts with SATs, here in Northern Ireland it’s the 11+  and our son James sits the second of his three papers tomorrow morning. It’s been a fairly tense time in our house, hence the pause in blogging recently, apologies.

But what is the best way to prepare your child for an exam when they are still only primary school age?

I’m guessing that our experience getting James ready for the 11+ isn’t that different to any other parents with children sitting exams, you want them to do well but you don’t want to pressure them too much, you want to help them but you don’t really know what the best way to do that is. I should say that doing the 11+ is in no way compulsory, though it is very common here and in our area of Belfast there are twice as many grammar schools as comprehensives. Perhaps that makes the whole thing harder for parents, the knowledge that we don’t have to put ourselves and James through this awful exam, but he wants to go to a particular grammar school and we want him to have that choice.

Our first dilemma was to tutor or not to tutor?

Well, with our backgrounds in Maths and English we decided we really ought to be able to give James any extra help he needed, and the primary school he is at do their own preparation in class.
So far so good.

Parents whose kids had already been through the exam told me how stressful it was, how difficult, and I thought, no, not in our house, it can’t be that hard, and I certainly won’t allow it to become a stressful experience for James. How naive I was. It was all going so well until the new school term in September. James’ test paper results weren’t very good and he seemed to be having a real crisis of confidence. I began to panic. What were we doing wrong? Should we have got a tutor? Virtually all of his friends are being tutored, were we missing out? It’s probably the first time I considered that James might not get where he wants to go and we’ve got to be ready for that too.

So what did we do?

I talked to other mums – over many cups of coffee and breathless conversations it seems we were all going through the same thing – which is kind of reassuring. Then we went to see his teacher. He was fantastic – he didn’t say everything was going to be fine but he did give us some pointers for things we could work on with James reminded us that encouragement is crucial, something we had lost sight of a bit and told us that we had to let James take ownership of this exam, he was the one sitting it, not us.

Now that we are in the midst of the exams a calm has descended on our house – James has done his very best, we have done ours and what will be will be. We aren’t through yet but if I were to share some tips on what has worked for us, in keeping us all sane it’s these:  Encourage, encourage, encourage. Even when they’ve misread half  the questions for the tenth time and you feel like screaming at them, find the positives, praise them for what they got right. I think sometimes with James I focused too much on what he was getting wrong and it demoralised him.

Give them ownership of their work.

To get James back on track in the month before the exam I sat down with him and between us we came up with a weekly work plan, we decided  how many hours a week we thought was fair, how we would split it up, half an hour there on maths, 20 mins English another day. We drew up a chart so we could tick off the work as he did it.

The Carrot


This really helped with getting the work plan going. We decided to reward James not for success in passing the 11+ but for the effort he puts in preparing for it. If he worked really hard we’d buy him the bike he wanted.  Wow – that one worked! Once there was something tangible for him to work towards it really focused his mind.

Keep things in perspective and keep your routine and theirs.

James has kept up all the sport and music he does after school and we’ve made sure that he has plenty of play time. This is an important exam but the world won’t end if he doesn’t get it and we can’t put life on hold for it – we have a happy, healthy son who will do fine whatever the outcome. Don’t  ‘Go Compare’

It’s hard not to be drawn into what other parents are saying about how their children are doing, and the kids themselves compare their marks to their friends’,  but ultimately nobody else matters – and as I’ve found out, you can’t always believe that they tell you anyway!

A last word

Exams at 7 or 11 are hard, something like the 11+ requires a degree of mental toughness that comes with maturity and I believe that at this stage some kids have it and some don’t, yet, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t help them do achieve their very best. If you’re going through an exam like us right now then I wish you and your child the very very best of luck – we will get through it!

Jane, Co-Founder of Komodo.

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Multiplication – The Half and Double Method

A tool kit for maths

Learning maths at primary school age is a little bit like collecting tools for a tool kit. Each maths skill has to be practised and perfected before it becomes part of the kit.

It all sounds very arduous but it’s really worth it – because once mastered, you’ll have these maths skills at your disposal for the rest of your life.

Here’s a super-useful tool for multiplying:

Multiplying using the Half and Double Method

When you’re faced with a multiplication like:

4 x 16 =

You have a number of methods to use:

  1. Short Multiplication  - the written method we all learned at school – here’s a video to remind you
  2. The Grid Method as discussed in this article
  3. The Distributive Law – which sounds scary but basically means “Splitting” it into two easy multiplications – so 4 x 16 becomes (4 x 10 ) + (4 x 6 )
  4. Or Sometimes, such as in this example, it’s just perfect for the Half and Double Method

 Using the Half and Double Method we can halve one side of the multiplication as long as we double the other – and the answer remains the same.

4 x 16


8 x 8 = 64

Here’s another example that looks a bit tricky at first:

34 x 5 = 

But after using the half and double method it becomes:

17 x 10 = 170

The method also works very well with some fractions like this:

3½  x 12 = 

Doubling removes the fraction:

3½  x 12 =  7 x 6 = 42

Likewise with decimals

4.5  x 8   =  9 x 4  = 36


The key to using the half and double strategy is choosing when it makes the problem easier.

Here are a few guides:

  • Is one of the sides 5 – if so doubling will give 10 which is easy ?
  • Is the side I need to halve even ?
  • Does one side include a half or 0.5 – if so doubling will remove it?



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Komodo – Award Winning Maths

Komodo Wins the at the DANI Awards

Left to Right: Barry Adams (Award Sponsor) Jane & Ged Co-Founders of Komodo

We’re proud to say that Komodo won the E-learning Award at last week’s DANI Awards – a UK City of Culture Event.

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The Komodo Maths Black Belt Club



Huge Congratulations to the first Seven Learners to receive Komodo Black Belts.

Well Done!





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Little and Often Learning – A Painless Route to Deep Learning


Neuroscience research has suggested that one of the most effective ways to learn involves a mix of short frequent sessions spaced apart with “down-time” in between.

The theory goes that the brain encodes memory more effectively and deeply when it handles little chunks with a rest in between. This theory, which is sometimes known as “Spaced Learning” is no secret to anyone who has tried to learn a musical instrument or language. Try to learn to play guitar in three solid weeks and you’ll fry your head, but the same time spread over six months will have you playing like Johnny Marr – well not quite but you know what I mean.

Sadly in schools spaced learning or “little and often learning” isn’t used that much. This is probably because it doesn’t fit it well with school timetables and the teacher’s ability to manage a big class. Little and Often Learning may not be easy to do in school but it’s ideal for the home – and this was a key factor in the way we designed Komodo. Komodo is not about keeping kids at the screen for a long time – because that doesn’t translate into deep learning. It’s about getting a real benefit from three to five twenty minute sessions per week over a year or more.

Learning is a Marathon not a Sprint Photo by: Eneas

Komodo is a Marathon not a Sprint

When some kids start to use Komodo they really throw themselves into it and race to clock up the lessons – some even hit our built in “Hey Go Out and Play” message. It’s hard to not to admire this great enthusiasm for learning but please don’t be afraid to say:

“Learning maths is a marathon not a Sprint”

Then push the little learners outside onto their bicycles – because if they can stick to short frequent sessions with Komodo over a longer period – they will benefit most.


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Rescued by my Mother – A Maths Professor’s Story



I enjoyed listening to Radio 4′s “The Life Scientific” this morning. Today Jim Al Khalili interviewed Professor Ian Stewart a mathematician and author who is currently involved in fascinating research into applying mathematics to problems in Biology. You can listen to the whole interview on iPlayer here.

What really struck me was a lovely story about how at age 8 Professor Stewart was really struggling with maths and then:

- Here are his words:

I was very nearly put off when I way about 8, and rescued my mother. I’d been doing badly at maths. I’d been put down into one of the lower groups and I was getting bored. Then a friend of mine pushed me over in the playground and I broke my collar bone so I was stuck at home for 5 weeks. And my mother decided to stay at home and sort our my maths – so she got the text book and I had to dictate to her because my writing hand was broken. And after we’d done 400 problems, and I got 396 right she marched into the school saying there is nothing wrong with this child’s maths – so they put me in the top group and I regained interest in the subject.


Professor Stewart’s experience is not unique. In fact I also credit my mother’s help as pivotal in helping my mathsI never got to Professor though!

What we parents can all take from this story is that we can help with maths, and make a big difference. Also not being great at maths at age 8 doesn’t mean much in the bigger picture - and we should never give up.

We’ve designed Komodo around the role of the parent because you’re the most important factor in home learning. With your encouragement and involvement we can make a difference.

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