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Teaching Roman numerals in the new curriculum

Monday, 14 April 2014

The new National Curriculum maths Programmes of Study includes reading and using Roman numerals, which seems typically knowledge and fact based. However Ancient Romans as a theme offers a rich context for mathematical starting points.

When the draft National was released in April last year I sent in recommended changes to the DfE as part of the public consultation process. In my top 5 things to change was the removal of Roman numerals. I think it's enjoyable to teach Roman numerals in KS2 as part of a topic on the Romans or the history of other number systems - but I didn't feel that it should be part of the statutory National Curriculum and therefore something to be tested.

However, Roman numerals have remained in the new 2014 NC, so we need to make the most of it.
Roman calculi

So, what is expected in the primary maths PoS?

Year 3       Tell and write the time.... using Roman numerals from I to XII

Year 4       Read Roman numerals to 100 (I to C) and know that, over time, the numeral system changed to include the concept of zero and place value

Year 5      Read Roman numerals to 1000 (M) and recognise years written in Roman numerals.

The Roman Abacus or Calculi

The Romans used pebbles in columns drawn in the sand as a counting aid.

These pebbles, used as counters, were called calculi, which is where the word calculate is derived from.

The Roman abacus had one pebble above a line, which represented 5 and up to four pebbles below – like a Japanese soroban. These were later adapted into small hand abaci with beads in grooves on a metal plate.

I can imagine Roman engineers and merchants showing off these early calculators to each other to see who had the latest design!

If you subscribe to the Maths Planning package there is a activity sheet for Y4-6  that you can donwload and use with your class.
Try these activities for Year 4 and Year 5. 

Activity 1

Using pebbles (or counters) and drawing basic lines on a piece of A4 paper, ask children to work in pairs and challenge each other to show different numbers up to 100 or C on their Roman Calculi. 

Write each number as a standard numeral and then as a Roman numeral.

Activity 2

Select pairs of Roman numbers and write them as additions.

XVI + XXXII = ?                 LIX + VIII = ?

What methods do you use to find the totals?  

Write the same additions in the numbers we use.
16 + 32 = ?                      50 + 8= ?

What methods do you use to find the totals now?

This should bring the children to the realisation that we can add all the tens, then add the ones. However it is much more difficult to add using Roman numerals which is why the present number system gradually became more widely used. 

Take a look at  this article from last year on Roman numerals and clock faces.

In addition to teaching the rules for the number I -XII, there is a mystery that surrounds the numbers on clock faces. 

          4 is often represented as IIII instead of the conventional IV

Some of the possible reasons for this are given and your class can decide the most likely explanantion.

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