Simple but effective

28th November 2003 at 00:00
Veronica Poku puts two easy-to-use resources for teaching the basics of counting and shape to the test

The Slavonic Abacus
Class Creations, pound;29.99 (pound;39.99 from January 1)
Tel: 01934 740 240
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Invicta Education - Classroom Pack, pound;54; Overhead Projector Set, pound;20; Magnetic Teacher's Pack, pound;15; Home Use Pack, pound;14; CD Workbook, pound;2.50. All prices exclude delivery and VAT. Available from: The Consortium (Tel: 01225 771264); and S-Cubed (Tel: 01270 621858)

When was the last time you used an abacus? These ancient counting instruments may well have been the mainstay of many a toy store or foundation stage classroom, but just how creatively have they been used?

The Slavonic Abacus, endorsed by the Association of Teachers of Mathematics (ATM), might be a new twist to an old theme. What sets this version apart from the ones many teachers are familiar with is the innovative division and different colouring of the beads into two sets - light green and dark green - of 10 sturdy, wooden rows. When working in the early years classroom or the lower end of key stage 1, it has proved to be a very good teaching tool when seeing how well children can spot groups of four or five without having to count. With practice, five can be seen instantly when laid out in this linear way. Also, when considering your more visual learners, it is a good resource for working on addition and subtraction number bonds up to 10.

With KS2 learners, it makes a very good visual aid when working on complements to 100. For example, children can easily spot 39, using the two-way colouring of The Slavonic Abacus, and then work out what needs to be added to make a number bond to 100. It also comes in very handy when consolidating children's knowledge of multiplication tables. The way the abacus is laid out readily lends itself to introducing rectangular arrays and working on five times tables, for example.

With our zest for new technology in teaching resources, it is good to see that an abacus could teach its pretenders something, as well as the children in our schools. See the TES website and do a search for "Slavonic abacus" to read a TES Teacher article from October 10 on using it in the classroom.

Devised by a former teacher, John Everett, Isotiles is based on the idea of the "golden ratio" and has proven to be an invaluable hands-on package for teaching shape. This is a resource that children from KS2 to KS3 have enjoyed using. This edition comes as a classroom pack with 10 containers, each with 20 isosceles triangles - 10 are acute and 10 are obtuse-angled.

The CD-Workbook, which is easily accessible to upper KS2 children, an Overhead Projector Pack of translucent tiles and a Teacher's Pack of large magnetised shapes are also available. These also provide a good resource lower down in the key stages.

The CD-Rom pack, with its Isotiles workbook, encourages cross-curricular links with ICT through interactive exercises. It includes definitions, explanations of the topics covered, along with notes for teachers. Many useful themes are covered, including reflective and rotational symmetry, parallel linesangles and sums of the angles of polygons.

This tactile resource offers children of all abilities the opportunity to enjoy this area of maths by experimenting with the types of shapes they can create. Used in the classroom, it can also encourage children to come up with ideas and think about the various shapes they have made. In this instance, the results achieved can be differentiated by the children's own working knowledge of shape.

You can download a demo of the workbook from the Isotiles website at This is a great resource that will help make the teaching and learning of shape more interactive and enjoyable for teachers and pupils.

Veronica Poku is maths co-ordinator at William Morris Primary in Mitcham, Surrey, and a leading maths teacher for Merton


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