Saturday, 7 January 2012

Number Displays...is yours 'abstract' or 'real'?

All classrooms have a number display (actually I've seen 1 or 2 without!), but how many really help children learn about our number system and how it links to the real world?  Having spent last year as an Every Child Counts maths specialist in Year 2, I took the opportunity to use my newly developed skills to create a number display in Nursery...

The number symbols we use, e.g. 4, 5, 6 (both verbally and visually) are quite an abstract concept for children when they learn to count. They usually learn them through Nursery rhymes or by rote. You can recognise this in children who revert to 1 when counting objects...

If you lay 3 objects in front of a young child they will probably count 1, 2, 3 without difficulty. Add another object and some children will say 'there's 4 now'. Some will start counting all the objects again from scratch (reverting to 1). There's nothing wrong with this, it just demonstrates that they know the string of labels 1 to 4, but not well enough to remember what comes after 3 without starting from the beginning.  It also means they probably haven't yet made a link between the number 'labels' and the quantities that they represent.

I'm a big fan of Numicon (the coloured plastic shapes to the left of each number symbol in the pictures), and have been using it to support my class's early experiences with counting. Most of the class instantly recognise the Numicon pieces, can order them and understand their relative quantities. This has been achieved by encouraging the children to play with the Numicon pieces, and by spending about 10 minutes a week teaching them which verbal number symbol relates to which Numicon piece.


I use the wall display to practice counting by rote.  As you can see, the display includes Numicon pieces along with 'real life' objects to demonstrate the quantity (arranged in a pattern to help create a visual link with the Numicon). Here's an example of how I use it...

When practicing counting to five I start from a number of different places...

From 1 and point to each number symbol as we move up to 5.

Count all the objects displayed under the number 5.

Count the first 5 of the objects displayed under 8, etc etc.


This method has yielded excellent results in terms of counting, recognising quantities (subitising) and numeral recognition. However, the biggest benefit took me by surprise yesterday...

I held up the Numicon pieces for 2 and 3 together to form the same shape as 5, and asked the children what number it was?  I was expecting blank faces, but thought someone might count all the holes and realise it was 5...

The response was many excited shouts of '5'. There was no delay or counting, they knew it was 5 from the shape.  I asked 'how do you know?', and I got this response from a child...

You've got 2 and 3, and that's the same as 5.

So we're now embarking on a voyage of discovery into addition.  I will let you know how we get on...



The Edgazette

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