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Maths Manipulatives KS1

Numicon, Cuisenaire or Multi-link?

One of the biggest visible changes to the primary school maths classroom environment in recent years has been the introduction or regular use of manipulatives. In the following article we look at some ideas on how and when to choose the best ones.

Using manipulatives or concrete resources (or stuff) is now recognised as one of the big ideas of maths mastery that has the biggest impact upon learning new concepts. Indeed, there is a body of research that for many years has been highlighting the impact of using concrete resources for everything from times tables to learning numbers to 10.

In my role as a maths consultant I visit schools where teachers are trying their very best to incorporate `stuff` into maths lessons but are often not always sure of what to provide children or when and how often. I am often called upon to support classroom observations and monitoring visits when manipulatives are out because teachers are being observed and not really to enhance the learning. I call these monitoring manipulatives as that’s the only reason they are out! Often teachers are called upon to use resources for which they have had little or no CPD, they can see the benefit for the children but don’t always know the best way to use them.

What to provide?

My answer is always the same. What have you got and how does it best expose the concept you are teaching? Here is a little anecdote to illustrate my point.

Some years ago I was in a classroom of year 1 children where they were struggling with a worksheet about odds and evens whilst their shiny new numicon was locked away in a glass cabinet, visible but unattainable. The teacher was unsure of how to support teaching this concept but the magical numicon with it’s physical odd parts sticking up would have been perfect to expose exactly what is `noticeable` about odd numbers. With a little support this teacher was able to see the connection to the physical nature of the resource and the concept they were trying to teach.

Rewind to the early nineties, when I first started teaching, and the multi-link was wheeled out if you, as a learner, didn’t get it. Multi-link was the beginning and the end of resources. That’s all we had and it was just used for one to one correspondence. Now, the issue is we have a vast amount of resources as all educational manufacturers are jumping on the bandwagon of CPA (Concrete Pictorial Abstract) and this makes it even more tricky for teachers to decide Numicon, Cuisenaire or multi-link etc. etc.

There is still a kind of lag in some schools that introduced mastery in one go where older key stage children didn’t learn with resources and this is now problematic. Use say numicon in a year 6 class with fractions and some children will see it as a backward step and be reluctant to engage but the benefits for deep learning are infinitely more than without. This is what my workshops and CPD sessions are all about.

I run workshops where the aim is to give teachers the opportunity to experience for themselves how to use concrete resources daily, how to organise the resources, how to create access and how to create opportunities for deep learning and support all at the same time.

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