What is Numicon®?

10 Jul 2020 | Ideas for Teaching & Learning

Numicon® looks weird but does great things! It was initially designed to facilitate children’s understanding and enjoyment of maths. The inventors could not get their heads around the fact that seemingly intelligent children were having real difficulty with maths. They felt that mathematical concepts were constantly being underestimated for their complexity, particularly those found at the very beginning of a child’s education. The design of Numicon has come from classroom-based research which was funded by the Teacher Training Agency and carried out by the fantastic Ruth Atkinson, Romey Tacon, and Dr. Tony Wing. And so the Swiss-cheese-looking Numicon was born!

But what actually is Numicon?

Okay, so we know the history now. What is Numicon? Well, Numicon is a concrete maths resource. As a physical object, it really does look like Swiss Cheese. A box of Numicon will contain a collection of flat plastic or metal shapes with holes that represent the number they are up to ten. Each number has associated holes and a different colour.

Each Numicon shape also has a differentiated weight associated with the number it represents. It is a wholly concrete maths resource that provides pupils with a multi-sensory experience of numbers. Pretty helpful, especially when it comes to teaching maths mastery.

Using Numicon in the classroom

There are four stages of typical progress that can be seen in children using Numicon:

Pattern – pairing/matching shapes and using the pegboard to stack them

Ordering – smallest to largest, largest to smallest, etc.

Counting – choosing various shapes to count how many holes they have, one by one

Early calculating – finding simple solutions e.g. adding a two-part shape to a four-part shape and understanding that it equals six

This journey can help lead to higher achievement in pupils; the physical pieces mixed with the mental test makes it easier for children to understand fully.


Using Numicon in early years

The bright colours, the easy to handle shapes, and the exciting activities that can be used with Numicon: it is the perfect resource for early years mathematicians. Add playdough, sand, or water to the mix and young children can begin to make connections, get to know shapes and patterns.

Numbers are next; those important early counting skills can be introduced using the hole patterns on Numicon pieces, moving on to number lines, and putting pieces in order is the next step of the journey.


Using Numicon in key stage 1

In key stage 1, pupils begin to explore place value and Numicon is fantastic for this. You can also use the shapes to explore addition and subtraction and looking into odds and evens.

You can even use Numicon to introduce geometry at this level too. Investigate symmetry, sharing, and even weight with the Numicon shapes.

The other topic you can use Numicon is for multiplication – times tables!


Using Numicon in key stage 2

The confidence will begin to show through KS2, especially if children have worked with Numicon throughout their time at your nursery and school. There are loads of uses for Numicon in upper primary school classrooms.

As children become more confident with numbers, they typically move away from using physical props to using pencil and paper and eventually to mental maths. But even the best of us need to go back to concrete resources to solidify our understanding – concrete’s not just for young pupils!

Oxford University Press has created an extremely useful program of study called Numicon Big Ideas, which consists of activities aimed specifically at KS2 and KS3 pupils who are struggling to meet the expected maths standard for their age.


Using Numicon with adults

Numicon can be used with students of any age. Maths anxiety can be a real problem in adults and therefore the parents of your pupils. If your pupils are using Numicon, it can be a fantastic way to engage parents in the child’s learning by holding a Numicon maths lesson. It could take away their own anxiety around maths, as well as build relationships between the school and your community.

If you’re already using Numicon in your school, we’d love to hear your weird and wonderful methods of using Numicon in the classroom! Share your ideas with us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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