What type of resource is SAMSON?

SAMSON carries out a unique and very specific role from P1–P7. It does not aim to cover everything but aims for depth and mastery of very specific knowledge and skills. Indeed, if we do these essential elements of SAMSON properly, they will underpin everything else we do in maths:

  • Specific mental strategies and techniques for the 4 processes
  • Specific skills in number such as rounding to next 10 or combinations to 100
  • Number bonds and table facts mastered not as single facts but through calculations involving carrying
  • Specific areas of maths that children find difficult, such as word problems, fractions and decimals.

Children don’t cover these areas but ‘overlearn’ and master them which will then free up their working memory so they can focus on the more difficult aspects of maths. Children get support and challenge: they get time, practice and support that they need to master these skills and enjoy the challenge of improving their skills and their times as well as building confidence.

There is a deep underlying structure which moves on slowly and builds from stage to stage. Conceptual understanding is obviously important but SAMSON provides the resource to turn this conceptual work into procedural fluency over time and through practice… far more of each is needed than we think.

However, it is a resource and just like any other, SAMSON needs to be brought to life by the teacher. The characters and their catchphrases help but personality and the selling of it to the children and making them believe in its importance is also crucial.

SAMSON is unique as it can be used for:

  • Teaching new concepts and techniques explicitly.
  • Deliberate practice of these all together as a group or class before undertaking independent work.
  • Number Talks to probe misconceptions and develop number sense.
  • Assessing progress in terms of scores and times as well as the ability to apply to other areas of maths.
How often should I use SAMSON? What does a typical week look like?

Variety is crucial and it is important to be flexible.


The aim is to do the MF/SS two times per week with the whole class and use the SAMSON MF for teaching and/or going over the SS.

On a third day you might just do a quick-fire flipchart with the class or just discuss the five word problems. (Make sure they are exposed to the word problems on a regular basis – discussing together or assessing who can do them).


Use the TCS when they slot in alongside the class and school programme for maths or when you want to focus on tables or number bonds by using, for example, a x sheet or + sheet. (This is also class dependant). A year long programme can be planned for in each class. The TCS can be used again if necessary and also regularly slotted in for homework. A weaker group could have a TCS on their ‘set list’ every day.

The TCS are ideal for teaching a new concept such as + TU or - HTU or teaching key areas of maths. They are used for teaching, modelling and deliberate practice or for assessing progress.

Also, you can use TCS for deliberate practice: the children can do lots of worked examples in a short space of time to build up conceptual understanding before textbook work.

The TCS are also perfect for ‘number talk’ and for explaining thinking and demonstrating understanding. For example, what is the value of the 4? Can you say that number in a different way? It is very important to use all sheets to develop number sense, ask left field-probing questions and also to discuss with the children why we are doing these sheets. They must be challenged to think about what they are doing - not just do it.

The TCS can be used to assess progress in terms of scores and times as well as the ability to apply to other areas of maths.

How much time daily is spent on SAMSON?

Again this is flexible….but a whole maths session could be 45 minutes, an hour or slightly longer. The SAMSON mental maths session could last as little as 10-20 minutes, longer if teaching something for the first time or have a lot to discuss, do and teach. A flipchart/strip session or TCS should take around 20 minutes: it is important to make it fast paced and fun. When you are introducing something new or want to slow things down and really think about a process or skill, the session would take longer.

A quick-fire flipchart session could be ten minutes before moving on to core maths work. Analysing the five word problems could be also be ten minutes before moving onto core maths work. As time goes on, the children and you will get quicker and time will reduce

How does it work for 2 groups (in a composite class)?

Each group could have two days on a MF/SS. One group would all do the same strip sheet and might have a TCS on their set list on the other 2 days. For example:

Days 1 and 3 - Group 1 do MF/SS, Group 2 do a TCS plus other work (e.g. textbook work).

Days 2 and 4 - Group 2 do MF/SS, Group 1 do a TCS plus other work (e.g. textbook work).

Day 5 - could be a quick-fire flipchart or just the 5 word problems or no maths at all. (Be flexible).

Setting, for the 20 minutes mental maths session- at least for some children - is another option

Ideally use a classroom assistant time, especially when  working with a group at early or first level.

Using TCS with two groups

There is no harm in using a sheet again for practice or using even a sheet from a previous folder (although the TCS programme and folders are designed in a very structured way so that, for example, P4 still includes all of the P3 type sheets and P5 includes all of P4).

The big problem is that weaker children (especially - although not solely) do not know their number bonds or tables facts… that is why a TCS sheet could be on their set list regularly, if not daily.

Another option is to do the TCS at the same time with the class… but the second group are doing a slightly different one (e.g. a TU sheet, rather than HTU)…they then continue until they finish and go on to other tasks while you group mark with group one after saying STOP to the first group after 5 minutes. Then go back and mark the 2nd group’s sheet later in the session.

Using Samson across two stages with MF/SS and TCS

One option if you have a P2/3 or a P3/4 or a P4/5… is to do a selection of flipcharts across the two folders in year one …and then do the rest in year two as part of a two year rolling programme

Also, do as two separate paths. For example:

 Year 1: P4/5

  1. +, -, then +/- from the P4 folder
  2. x and divide as a separate path covering the 2-5 plus 6x and 8x tables. Use the TCS to learn these through calculations.


Year 2: P4/5

  1. +, -, then +/- from the P5 folder
  2. X and divide as a separate path: all tables including the 7x and 9x tables plus the ‘beyond the tables’ flipcharts and strip sheets. Use the TCS to learn these through calculations.
One group is doing well but one needs heavy input?

There is no magic formula – it takes time, practice and hard work …but weaker children will never get there… doing less or going more slowly… or not doing it at all.

In my experience, it can take some a full year or more of SAMSON before the penny drops and start to see real confidence and success. (For example, a P7 child in 2017 was assessed as 78 for developed ability yet 145 for mental maths after three years of Samson work).

With differentiation there are basically two options…

Option 1…traditionally the temptation has been to take poorer children out and make work easier. Individual completion of work becomes the priority - like a factory production model …where work is given and completed in line with the teacher’s perceived need to individualise instruction.

For example, children tend to complete tasks like filling in numbers… with little evidence of any real learning taking place (and there is little evidence that this approach works or has worked in the past). The weaker children tend to do less and go slower so the gap either widens or remains. As Bart Simpson famously said, ‘Hang on, I’m behind already? How will I catch up if I do less and go slower?’

My experience is that poorer or weaker children need more support, time and practice.

Option 2… therefore is to try something different…for children to get the same opportunity and social justice … get more time with extra sessions and more teaching and more support if necessary. This involves a change of teacher mind set with the need to be patient, not to panic and to ‘play the long game’. Reassure them they will get there and… provide the extra support, extra deliberate practice and extra time they are going to need: the end of a level and the end of P7 become the key milestones.

SAMSON will be tough in the short term for some children (and teachers!) but in the long term, they will grow in confidence. They are not going to walk away after three sessions and suddenly be brilliant at maths. For poorer children it can take a year or more with just one technique but the SAMSON approach means they do not miss out. It is however incredibly satisfying when all the children get there and suddenly start to get success and feel more confident. Do not panic…stick to a long term plan. It is tough, make no mistake about it. For example, it is not called the takeaway tightrope for no reason!

Two different approaches for a weaker group

The first option for a weaker group who need more time is to make sure they get the teaching input…but their follow up tasks could be simplified. For example:

75 + 58…just get the number bond (5 + 8)

81 – 67…just get from 67 to 70 (3)

156 – 78...just get from 78 to 100 (22)

Crucially, they remain with the whole class for the follow up group marking, questioning and discussion.

A second option is a deliberate step by step practice: for example, they do a strip sheet together with a teacher or classroom assistant, jotting down each question step by step…81 – 67 = 3/11 = 14…with no need to record times or scores. Sheets go in the bin.

Is one strategy really the best way to go?

Too many strategies can lead to an overload of working memory for the vast majority of children, especially the less able. Children like things kept simple – the best way, the most efficient way: they get confused by ‘number talks’ with multiple methods of doing one question. We want them to be absolutely secure in one way so this is automated in their long term memory: it is more about they can’t not do it. With SAMSON the poorer children get the same opportunity and do not miss out. If you are going, as a school, to go for multiple methods, then you have to take into account that they will have to do thousands of examples and get loads of practice in each of those different ways. Once children have absolute confidence in one way then maybe, maybe they can be creative and explore other ways – but then again, why would you need to or want to?

The beauty of the SAMSON strategies is that they are simple & symmetrical. The characters relate with and to each other. For example: 156 – 78…Steph 1 (22), Steph 2 (56) …then Samson & Tiny Tim come off the subs bench and complete with 56 + 22!

The techniques and strategies reinforce important specific skills that children find difficult but are hugely beneficial in other areas of maths. For example:

  • Combinations to the next 10 (81 - 67..67 up to 70: 3)
  • Combinations to 100 (156 - 78…78 up to 100: 22)
  • Number bonds and connections (5 + 2, 50 + 20)
  • Tables facts and connections (4 x 6, 40 x 6)
  • Interleaved questions where more than one of the processes is required (18 x 15: doubling, x 10, combination to 100)

Children feel insecure about maths but these simplified strategies will give them (and teachers) long term confidence. It is important to encourage them to think and use these methods in all contexts and areas of maths so that it becomes second nature but this takes years of training. They need a rock solid method and catchphrase to hang their hat on. If we change methods and try and make it easier and go for a quick fix – it will do more harm than good (to them and the next year’s teacher) in the long run and it is vital to have the mind set of playing the long game. Relax. Be patient, reassure and support – they will get there.

How does it work in P3?

Run the year as a split – like two parallel paths

P3 Terms 1-4 MF/SS

Path 1

  • Term 1: +
  • Term 2/3:  -
  • Term 3/4:  a mix of   +/-

Path 2

  • Term 1: 2x/10x tables 
  • Term 2: 5x table
  • Term 3: 3x table
  • Term 4: 4x table …then for the rest of Term 4: a mix of 3P and 4P MF/SS

P3 Terms 1-4 TCS

Possible Path

  • Term 1: TCS + 10 …TCS - 10
  • Term 2: TCS + 20 …TCS Round TU to 10
  • Term 3: TCS – 20 …TCS Value of Digits/Round HTU to 10 and 100
  • Term 4: TCS + TU to U …TCS + TU to TU and TCS - U from TU
How does it work in P4?

Run the year as a split – like two parallel paths

Path 1 Terms 1-3

  • Term 1:      +        
  • Term 2/3:   -                
  • Term 3:  a mix of +/-

Path 2 Terms 1-3

  • Term 1: 2-5x/10x Tables (with TCS as well as MF/SS)
  • Term 2: 6x Table (with TCS as well as MF/SS)
  • Term 3: 8x Table (with TCS as well as MF/SS) …then Term 4: a mix of 3P and 4P MF/SS
What if they are not engaged by the characters?

The characters are there as a bonus - but my experience is that almost all the children in every class love the characters and believe in the strategies - but it takes time to develop success and confidence …which then breeds more success and more confidence. Not many children in my experience are really engaged by anything other than a passing or situational interest. It is up to us to sell it, tell them how important it is, make it as fast paced and as much fun as possible and give them success and confidence. Children enjoy success above all else…that is what motivates them.

When do you start strip sheets in P1?

As an example, the strip sheets could start at the end of January with work up until this point focussed upon numbers plus teaching and developing the mental strategies (e.g. lazy zero) they will need to work out number bonds. Other resources are used to support SAMSON flipcharts and strip sheets. Strip sheets are going to be used twice a week - three to a page in a booklet – and the children use their fingers to work the questions out - but not number lines as they are being asked to practise mental strategies taught.

How do we make learning tables more exciting?

We need to use personality to sell SAMSON and make them believe it is important. It is a resource and as with any resource we as teachers need to bring it to life. All tables are worked on both as individual facts using the MF/SS and through calculations using the TCS. This is a key time and their aim is to become as good at tables as they can. It is hard work but will be satisfying and beneficial in the long run. The TCS can be used to motivate via times and scores and make it competitive against themselves and others.

Beyond the tables

Questions such as 15 x 4 then go beyond the tables: they really start to need ‘Best Friend Ten’ from this point. (They partition: 10 x 4 plus 5 x 4 and use Samson and Tiny Tim to add these).

75 divided by 5 is done using reverse multiplication. 50 divided by 5 would have been 10. 50 and what makes 75? Use Steph 1, Steph to get from 50 to 75. How many 5s in 25? Now add 10 fives plus 5 fives = 15 fives… so 75 divided by 5 = 15. The characters now all start to work together.

When do we introduce written calculations?

This is dependent on the school programme for maths. Written ‘sums’ should be taught from P3 via the TCS so all the children can work on learning number bonds and tables facts which will then fed into their mental work. The written sums for TU and then HTU are done as vertical calculations not mentally – as we are focusing on the number bonds and tables facts.

This gives the children two options: pencil and paper or mental. They need to understand how to do both and be immersed in both. (The mental SAMSON & Tiny Tim & Stephanie methods are taught via the MF/ &SS).

The written calculations provide more of a challenge than learning single number bonds or tables facts: learning through calculations takes things to a higher level.

The division strategies seem complex?

The division strategies are complex but this is where all that has gone before is now used in these questions. 51 divided by 3 is done through reverse multiplication using ‘Best Friend Ten’ then Steph 1, Steph 2 (see the P5 examples above).

90 divided by 18 – guess and then check using ‘Best Friend Ten’. Guess: 5? (5 x 10 plus 5 x 8 gets you back to 90.)

112 by 14 – use reverse multiplication using ‘Best Friend Ten’. 140 divided by 14 = 10. This is too much by 28 (Steph 1, Steph 2: 12 up to 40). What is the connection between 28 and 14? (Double)  Two 14s is too much …so 10 – 2 = 8 fourteens

255 by 15 – use reverse multiplication using ‘Best Friend 20’. 300 divided by 15 = 20. This is too much by 45 (Steph 1, Steph 2: 55 up to 100). What is the connection between 15 and 45? (Treble) This is three 15s too much …so 20 – 3 = 17 fifteens.

It is complex but deliberately so …and the questions are brilliant and layered because they have to use all the strategies and characters (symmetrical and simplified) to work them out, things that they have been working up to since P4.

What if my more able children get bored?

My experience is that the able children are exactly the opposite – they are motivated to strive for personal bests. We have to sell it. I haven’t seen one child switched off or bored in 5 years. They are competing against themselves as well as others for mastery. It is only 5 minutes – If they are bored, as it is only 5 minutes a day – we can live with that – children get bored by most things let’s face it and it is best to ignore it. But we have to make them believe in it!

If they are finding P6 and P7 maths easy then we have cracked it! The takeaways from P4 are tricky even for the best of children.  Once (able, hopefully all) children get really confident with +/- in P4 and P5 then the main focus in P6 and P7 will be on incredibly difficult and challenging x/divisions which start at the end of P5. Meanwhile, they will keep ticking over and securing all the +/- strategies

When children are really confident further down the line… P7 and possibly P6 could fast track +/- at the start of the year and move to a mixed +/- strip sheet quite quickly or even straight away. Then you can spend more time on multiplication and division beyond the tables as well as three and four process work.

How often do we keep data?

Keeping data again is down to you. Be flexible. You don’t have to record everything but you might take a baseline score and time and then revisit this a few weeks later to check for progress in terms of scores and times. To save time, record the scores as the children finish: when they put up their hand, give them a time and also record this on your scoring sheet. Scores out of 10 (SS) or 20 (TCS) are quickly taken at the end of marking and recorded on the master sheet. TCS can be filed or binned. SS are usually glued in a (A4) jotter. Record their times and scores all the time for SS and TCS to track progress. Deliberate Practice sheets in key areas of maths can go in the bin unrecorded but sometimes you might want to check if can do these so record when necessary and use judgement.

Finally…Don’t Give Up!

SAMSON will get easier…once you get more familiar with it. Results prove things haven’t worked as well as we have hoped in the past…so why not try something different…something that has a proven track record. You will become more confident using it, the children will also start to gain quickly in confidence and improvements will come. Once you have you used it for a year then you will have a personal store of knowledge starting…then you will be able to start thinking more about SAMSON and how to make it work better. You will be able to adjust your core programme to meet and compliment Samson. Don’t give up …give it time to have an impact!

Multiple differentiated maths groups and multiple methods and strategies, discovery learning and constructivist maths have been tried for some time. All the data and evidence suggests (for example, SSNL/PISA assessments) that past methods have not worked for many children. It is time to do something different. There is accountability with SAMSON which is ideal for identifying who is weak in a certain area: you find out how good or bad your children really are at maths. However, be patient and give it time to assess the impact for all children as there is no magic formula for success.

‘File Path Too Long’ Error

When attempting to transfer Samson files supplied by USB Stick to your computer or server you may experience the error ‘File Path Too Long’. If this is the case, first transfer the files to the root folder on your computer or server. This will be the top level folder in the drive in question.

e.g. For placing files on your local machine, you can navigate to this through Windows Explorer > computer > Local Disk(C:). Placing the files here first will avoid the error.

From here you will be able to move the files without any issues to any folder on the computer you wish to store the files.



I am getting faster at the Timed Challenge Sheets, addition, subtraction, multiplication and divide. They are easier now thanks to the Big Guy, step 1 step 2 and best friends 10 and 20.

My son and daughter are loving their Maths lessons taught by Mr Armstrong. It’s definitely their favourite subject. Great enthusiasm and an excellent programme.

I just wanted to say how fantastic I think SAMSON is. I am a parent and know very little about it but have a son in P7 at Troqueer
Primary who has never “got” numbers and “hated maths”. I found this difficult as I was taught arithmetic well and use “mental maths”
every day at 40. Since he has started SAMSON he has made huge progress with all aspects of mental maths - it’s quite unbelievable. I
only wish he had benefitted from it sooner! He’s even enjoying numbers and their challenges now which is great. I’m looking forward to
learning a bit more about the strategies and how parents can support the work at home soon. I think it’s a brilliant addition to kids
education and just wanted to thank you very much!

I love the fun characters in maths. It is my favourite thing at school.

They have been a massive help because when I first came into P7, I was getting 15/20 in 4 minutes 30 seconds and I am now getting 20/20 in 2 minutes 6 seconds.