Use of the NRICH website skyrocketed during lockdown after school closures forced many students to continue their education onlineLouis Ashworth

After schools closed in March following government coronavirus guidance, a University of Cambridge maths outreach website achieved record numbers of users, numbering up to 724,758 page views per week.

The NRICH maths outreach website, a collaboration between the Faculties of Mathematics and Education in Cambridge,  has been providing free online maths resources to students age 3 to 18 since its inception as part of Cambridge’s Millennium Mathematics Programme in 1999. During lockdown, however, this online resource experienced record visitor numbers, with a 94.87% year-on-year rise in website visits from the UK between March and September.

The NRICH offers interactive online resources for students from early years through to primary and secondary school level. The service is free and focuses on supporting both students and teachers through curriculum-based activities, worksheets and other resources, alongside conferences, workshops and training days. 

The NRICH team responded quickly to the news that schools would be closing for an extended period due to COVID-19. Despite already being underway with other future publications, these were postponed to focus on addressing the need for high quality resources to be used at home. Updates to the site were live from the Monday morning after schools closed on 20th March. 

In order to update the website for lockdown a bright yellow banner was added to the top of the NRICH homepage highlighting a new “Maths at Home” section, which brought together a series of activities the NRICH team thought would work well in a home environment. One example is the “Homemade Maths” section for children ages 5 to 11, where using everyday bits and pieces like buttons, scraps of paper or sweets was recommended instead of the counters or plastic cubes pupils would have been used to in their classrooms.

The goal was to make the site as family friendly as possible and ensure parents who were home-tutoring for the first time would feel confident helping their children. When parents felt out of their depth they could rely on ‘teacher notes’ included in the resources to introduce and explain maths topics, or look at the solutions and explanations to problems published on the site by other students.


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Dr Ems Lord, Director of NRICH, believes the project’s success in reaching children across the country throughout the school closures is due to how ‘incredibly engaging and accessible for all’ the NRICH resources are. A key, research-based part of their approach is having a ‘low threshold’ and a ‘high ceiling’, with problems easy to get started on but also with many opportunities for exploration and discussion - ideal for learners of all abilities.

With members from both Faculties of Education and Mathematics, the NRICH team benefits from both teaching experience and knowledge of latest research, resulting in successful approaches such as this ‘low threshold high ceiling’. Dr Lord describes the project as ‘an excellent example of how collaboration between our Faculties can support the wider community’.

The NRICH website offers flexibility of access on laptops but also mobiles and tablets, as well as teacher guidance which may help family members without strong mathematical backgrounds. NRICH also helps build a community of mathematicians who can interact with each other, publishing their solutions on the website for others to read and to help other learners.

Many have expressed concerns in recent months about how educational inequalities have widened between the poorest and richest families over lockdown, with fewer resources and parental support available to children from more disadvantaged backgrounds. 

With the reopening of schools last month Dr Lord describes how the team ‘had to refocus again’, focusing more on supporting schools to nurture mathematicians. 

Despite children being back in the classrooms, audience figures have remained strong, with the website receiving many solutions from students right around the world since the start of the new school year.

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