Let Teachers SHINE winner 2023: Jonny Foster – Prodigy

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A new website will help GCSE maths and science students by offering them bespoke animated lessons linked to their out-of-school interests – from football to TikTok.

The Prodigy site will become a reality after its creator Jonny Foster, was awarded £25,000 from Let Teachers SHINE, a competition which backs innovative teachers to develop their ideas.

The teacher at Macmillan Academy, in Middlesbrough, says the site will help students – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – to transfer knowledge and skills between maths and science while also making links between school and the real world.

Jonny said: “The research showed me that there is, as I suspected, a disparity between students achieving in maths and in science.”

GCSE students tend to achieve better in maths than they do in science, particularly if they have lower prior attainment, or are from a disadvantaged background.

“My aim,” said Jonny, “is to help close both the gap between maths and science grades and the overall gap in the achievement of disadvantaged students.”

One of the reasons for the disparity is that some students are struggling to transfer their knowledge between the subjects, despite there being substantial overlap between the two.

As well as showing how knowledge can be transferred between subjects, Prodigy aims to make lessons fun, interactive and relevant to the students.

“Within the Prodigy online platform, I want to build profiles of the students’ interests, so that we can link questions to their interests,” he explained.

“But for teenagers, interests can change very quickly, so I have been surveying students about their interests, which will hopefully make it feel really fresh to the students and not some old, boring platform that doesn’t really relate to them.

Some areas of interest change more rapidly than others. For instance, Tik Tok and YouTube influencers regularly fall in and out of fashion.

Jonny and his developer are working on making elements easily interchangeable so that questions always feel up to date.

“The aim is that it will be possible to change the content very quickly, so that it’s constantly updated. That’s going to be a challenge, but it is something that I think will make a big difference in the engagement and particularly from those students that we really want to engage – those who might struggle to maintain concentration otherwise.

The aim is to get a simple version of the website up and running in the next year, which will allow testing and refining to take place.

If the website proves to be a success, Jonny hopes to introduce it into more schools, and he also hopes to expand it into other subjects.

“The ultimate hope would be that disadvantaged students and those with lower prior attainment want to engage with Prodigy. They want to go on and use it and will spend a decent amount of time on it.

“The target is to make this the thing that they want to be on.”

On receiving the funding from Let Teachers SHINE, Jonny said: “It’s amazing to be told that they’re going to back you.

“Hopefully we can do something positive with it and make a difference with it.

“I’m both excited and nervous for the next two years because there’s a lot of work to do, but I’m confident that we can do something that really helps students.”

SHINE Interim CEO, Helen Rafferty, said: “I’m so pleased we’ve been able to support Jonny to develop his idea further. At SHINE, we believe in the power of great teachers and it’s hugely inspiring to see the passion and commitment which continues to exist in places like Middlesbrough, despite the many challenges that teachers are facing. We look forward to supporting the development of Prodigy and testing the impact on students over the coming years.”