|Resources in action
Numicon in the Early Years - Cherri Moseley, Early Years author
The Clover Hill Infant and Nursery School was one of the ten schools in Norfolk involved in the research phase of the National Maths Intervention Programme, Every Child Counts. The programme aimed to enable the lowest attaining children to make greater progress towards expected levels of attainment in mathematics, supporting them to catch up with their peers and achieve level 2B, or better, by the end of Key Stage 1. At the start of the programme, the children’s average level in numeracy was 1B, while just six weeks later, after intervention, the average level had risen to 2C. The Norfolk trial used Numicon. At Clover Hill, children made such outstanding progress that the staff had a ‘light bulb moment’ and decided to introduce Numicon throughout the school. Staff had noted that when used for one-to-one intervention, Numicon was a motivational, tactile resource. It was not so fiddly that it distracted the children but was interesting enough to keep them engaged and support the development of visualisation. The school already had an experience-based culture of learning and Numicon fitted in well with that ethos. The headteacher, Lynne Holman, feels very strongly that when you let children do it themselves, they remember. For example, if they make their own marks, when you revisit them weeks later most children will know exactly what it says.
Numicon was introduced to the rest of the school, and particularly Nursery and Reception in September 2008. Both staff and children worked with the intervention teacher, Debbie Catchpole exploring the ‘Getting to know you’ activities. In the Nursery, plates are buried in the sand tray, they float in the water tray, are pressed into play dough and much more. Children are encouraged to develop instant recognition of the relevant plate and matching numeral. Although they are discouraged from counting the holes, they can count the pegs which fit in the holes. The pegs come in a number of different colours while the plates are colour coded. In Reception, the activities build upon those in the Nursery. Children make patterns with the plates and press one into play dough for a friend to identify. They roll play dough balls to match the holes. There are picture overlays for the baseboards, where children match the Numicon plates to build a picture. They also explore covering the whole of the base board without any gaps and all the time there is a running conversation with the adult asking what numbers they have used and what is needed to fill in a gap or complete the picture. The children could be asked to find a particular plate in a feely bag to develop recognition of the plates from their shape, since the colour cannot be seen. They order non-consecutive numbers by looking at the size of the plates and match various combinations of plates, numerals and number words. A popular activity is to order the plates to 10, then swap some around. The children have to identify the swaps and put them right. Sometimes there is more than one swap! One particular activity develops the idea of one more. Children make the next number in the numberline and swap for the next plate, seeing both numberline and plate growing.
With the introduction of a spinner, many more games are possible. It is interesting to note that on the overlays for the spinner, the plates are black, not coloured. Many children find the colour coding helpful at first, but as instant recognition develops from the shape, the colours are no longer necessary. Introducing the same shapes but without the colours, helps to ensure that the children are not dependent on the colour coding. The children become more and more confident, exploring and finding out for themselves. Once they have explored in this way, it is easy to move on to number bonds and much more. They build the bonds by placing a smaller plate on top and adding another small plate to exactly cover the first one, discovering for themselves that 3 add 1 makes 4. Putting a plate on top of another is also great for finding the difference, frequently a tricky area. Those children currently in Nursery and Reception are making great progress. It would be interesting to track their progress through to the end of the Primary phase and beyond, to see if their experience with Numicon continues to have an influence and their progress is maintained.
Heidi Jeffries, the Reception class teacher was surprised at how quickly the children ‘caught on’. Activities have been both adult and child initiated. Children often request Numicon in golden time. They particularly love the picture overlays, but they also model several of the activities they have been engaged in. There are no worksheets, just resources. Not only that, but additional resources are continually being developing according to need. Black plates to help develop take away have recently been introduced.
Linking numbers to amounts has been an area of concern in the past, with the difficulties lingering as children progress through the school. Children have found it hard to understand and use the ‘threeness of three’. The class teacher feels that the current cohort have got there more easily, perhaps because each number has its own plate and is not made from a series of ones. Although it can be difficult to compare cohorts, assessment data supports her opinion and shows that the current cohort are more secure in their understanding of number. They are already better at ordering numbers and recognising numerals. Instant recognition and visualisation underpins numeral recognition, ordering and other basic skills. Whereas this time last year, several could not yet order numbers to 10, this year most can. Visualisation is already so embedded that children spot the Numicon plate patterns in all sorts of unexpected places. When some hoops were put out on the hall floor for PE, one child commented, ‘Oh, you’ve made the Numicon shape for 7!’ They also naturally draw amounts in the Numicon plate orientations. Children introduce Numicon to some activities themselves. When doing paper plate addition (rolling a die to generate two groups to add), children sometimes choose to draw the number in the Numicon plate shape, not the die pattern that they’ve just seen. However, they do not seem to be dependent upon it, using a range of other representations. Teachers feel that Numicon develops the skills; it is down to them to help develop links so that there is no rigidity of thinking.
The less able have found Numicon particularly useful, others have found it helpful and motivating and the more able have found it useful to support challenge activities. The holes in the plates are large enough for other counting manipulative to fit into, helping to ensure that skill become transferable. The staff feel that Numicon is the mathematical equivalent to Letters and Sounds. It supports the development of basic skills through regular, structured and consistent activity, which then underpin further development. What Letters and Sounds does for individual letter sounds, so Numicon does for number skills. During a staffroom discussion of the range of activities Numicon could be used for, staff thought about how useful it would be to have large foam plates for use in the Foundation Stage and PE. Children could climb all over them, throw beanbags into the holes and much more. They’d be more than happy to trial it, if anyone from Numicon is listening!
Please note: free downloads are available from the Numicon site, but it is also a commercial product. The NCETM cannot endorse any resource, and the opinions expressed in this article are those of the contributor.