Building blocks to big numbers
ALL FROM HOPE EDUCATION. Age range: R to Year 6
Colourful cubes are helping small fingers count beyond nine, reports Annie Owen
Understanding place value is intrinsic to understanding our number system and, hence, to being numerate. Children begin to learn when they first record some counting beyond the number nine. Ten doesn't have a symbol of its own - it is a combination of two numbers - and so the complexity starts.
Children at the beginning of key stage 1 manipulate real objects for counting, but this experience cannot be sustained for much larger numbers, hence the development of manipulatives seen in the classroom of older children such as Diene's Multibase and the abacus.
Hope Education's Big Base is such a manipulative, combining the place value power of Diene's Multibase with the size of the old Stern apparatus and the colour of Multilink.
Little fingers find small cubes hard to manipulate, and they are also more easily lost. So Big Base's colourful 2cm cubes will particularly help very young pupils. However, their continued use through to the top years of key stage 2 may not be appropriate as older pupils may think the material is too babyish. Also, with the larger numbers dealt with at this level, it can become unwieldy.
The different coloured cubes can be used to set up algebraic puzzles, but they cannot be seen entirely as a replacement for Multilink because they cannot be connected to form shapes.
The Big Base equipment is supported by a resource pack, three books, train sets and activity mats. The Resource Pack has 15 activities on coloured card, with photocopiable follow-up activities in black and white on the back. These cover place value, addition and subtraction for key stage 1.
The cards would provide useful introductory and discussion activities, but they would be difficult for young children to use without previous lessons, as the language is often difficult and the layout could be confusing.
The three books - Numbers to 10 (for key stage 1), Numbers to 100 (for 7 to 9-year-olds) and Numbers to 1,000 (for 8 to 11-year-olds) - contain a wealth of ideas for using the Big Base apparatus. Each book is divided into sections such as Counting and Ordering, Place Value and Addition, and within each section are photocopiable activities which could be used to provide differentiated tasks for a whole class, or as part of a bank of ideas for a topic. Use of the equipment is suggested whenever possible. This can sometimes lead to activities feeling a bit contrived. For example, children are asked to use cubes to cover pictures which will be used for counting when the picture itself is sufficient.
This is more of a problem with older pupils. For example, in Numbers to 1,000 children are asked to try Russian multiplication by modelling it with Big Base. If they are ready to understand what is happening in Russian multiplication, then they should be able to halve and double two-and three-digit numbers on paper and not need to use the cubes.
u Hope Education, Orb Mill, Huddersfield Road, Oldham OL4 2ST.
Tel: 0161 628 2788.