The concept for the Addacus numeracy resource was developed by two teachers who wanted to devise a new tool to introduce and reinforce number concepts. They worked closely with designer Ian Thompson and his team to create a marketable product from the initial idea.

“Our client had started developing the product by making a simple wooden box with some sticks poking vertically out of the top,” recalls Thompson.

“We focused on exploring and defining the nature of the underlying problem and on developing an understanding of the true nature of the user and the educational value the product could have.”

In this case, product development entailed rather a lot of on-site research and Thompson attended a number of schools, taking part in maths lessons as both the student and the teacher.

“This first-hand experience allowed me to remove a lot of preconceptions,” he said. “It also gave me great insight into what children thought was ‘cool’ and into the methods teachers could and could not use.”

“We could then see that we needed to create an ‘educational toy’, which children would freely engage with, not a ‘learning aid’,” explained Thompson.

“I started with a ‘cool’ board, similar to a mood board used for interior design projects. I also had a poster of toys and gadgets available at the time and got the children to select the products they would like to play with.”

Thompson asked the children about their favourites, which helped to create a picture of what was desirable in a child’s mind, the way they might like it to look and their preferred method of interacting with it.

To form the initial design this knowledge was combined with input from teachers, his own observations, and ergonomic and legislative recommendations.

“I decided early on that the Addacus device should be able to store the counting cubes like coins in a shop till,” he said. “The form and semantics of the product then related to a traditional shop till and gave a sense of context and a feeling of money, adding and subtracting.”

The whole product focuses on the educational aspect of the system, with all parts – counting cubes, moving number dials and strips – contributing in some way to learning. The setting up of the Addacus even teaches assembly and disassembly through colour and shape coordination.

“The emphasis is on pupil participation, tactile feedback and a continuous guide for the learner as they transfer the interactive experience from 3D (the Addacus and its blocks) to 2D (a book, number cards and worksheets),” said Thompson.

“This experience is extended by an audio CD to increase sensory involvement and presents the children with the opportunity to develop additional speaking and listening skills.”

“The structure demonstrates practically how the decimal number system works and engages children in a logical and systematically structured method of learning both individual numbers and mathematical processes like addition and subtraction

“The posts and the storage draws for the cubes, and the cubes themselves, are shape and value coordinated to teach a lesson,” explained Thompson.

“The 0-9 counting cubes have an ellipse-shaped hole that only fits on the copper pole, to teach about copper coins; the 10-90 cubes have a triangle hole and associated silver coins; and the 100-900 cubes have a square hole and gold coins.”

As Addacus was a new start-up company, it was vital to keep tooling costs to a minimum. “We utilised our experience in plastic mould design to develop a design that did not require tooling with collapsible cores or side actions,” Thompson said.

“This allowed us to keep tooling costs to a minimum for Addacus at this early stage of their business start up.”

“We were also careful about how much material we were using in the components. This led to some complex ‘shelling’ of components, particularly on the number strips which involved a number of ‘lofted’ cuts to get the desired results.

“The outcome was a cleverly thought out product and a great educational solution that meets the expectations of all stakeholders.

“The success of the design can only truly be measured by assessing its impact in the classroom,” said Thompson.

Addacus is in use in schools throughout the UK.

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