Getting numbers the write way round

5th May 2006 at 01:00
Q) I support a Year 3 girl with severe dyslexia who writes numbers back to front. Her teacher asked me to help her practise writing numbers the right way round. I made some worksheets where she writes over the number, but when she is working in class she still gets them back to front.

A) Bodies are useful - I wonder if they were created specially to help with maths! I have been teaching a girl of a similar age and found she also had this problem. I considered ways she could use her hands to identify the correct way to write numbers. This girl is right-handed, so I told her to make a fist with her left hand (the one without the pencil), and this would be her number helper. We began by looking at 3, drawing it around the knuckles of the left hand, as shown in the photo. This ensures 3 is the right way round.

Then we had a think about the other numbers. The left fist fits in the bottom bit of the 5 and the top bit of the 2.

As 4 isn't round in any way I asked her to focus on the corner of her page below her left fist and draw the corner, then put the line across it - 4 solved! The 6 is based on the 5, but a bit more tricky, as the fist has to be moved so that the bottom part of the 6 can be completed and the top can be more curved.

With 7, I told her to think of her right hand, and "7 is in heaven", which is above her writing hand, and so she should draw that corner of the page.

The number 9 is a little like a 6 rotated half a turn, so she has to remember 6 first. Mental imagery is very powerful and if it is based on one's own body it can be used at any time. I have made these images available as a pdf on the Mathagony website with video clips explaining how they work.

Q) Inspired by the article "Celebrity Calculators" (TESTeacher January 6), I want to create a mini portrait gallery in a primary school of famous mathematicians. The question is, which ones to choose and why?

A) Dr Vinay Kathotia, Cloth Workers' Fellow in maths at the Royal Institution, gave me the following ideas.

* The MacTutor History of Mathematics website is an excellent resource for finding candidates for a portrait gallery. It has alphabetical, chronological and geographical listings and other indexes (including some on female mathematicians).

Also, one could consider:

* A "geographical" gallery that includes mathematicians from around the world.

* Mathematicians whose lives were cut short at a young age (by illness, accident or human intervention). This could include many famous people and some amazing work (Archimedes, Hypatia, Niels Henrik Abel, Evariste Galois, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing, and, more recently, Thomas Wolff).

* Mathematicians who have attained immortality by their names, having become part of the (mathematical) language (eg Pythagorean triples, Galois groups, Riemann mapping, Gaussian curvature, Turing machine, Julia and Mandelbrot sets, Feynman diagrams, Penrose tiling).

* If one is into prizes, one could choose winners of the Fields Medal andor Wolf Prize.

* Faces of Mathematics is a recent project which introduces present-day UK mathematicians

* Use birth dates - try finding one for each month.

* Mathematicians who were caught up in war (pacifists, fighters, prisoners); in addition to some of those named above (Archimedes, Pythagoras, Turing), key names are Lewis Fry Richardson, a Quaker and committed pacifist who was a conscientious objector during the First World War, and Jean Leray, a Frenchman who did some seminal work as a prisoner of the Germans during the Second World War.

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