Digital manipulatives for early number learning: Numbuko

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Since Fröbel presented his ‘gifts’ almost 200 years ago, educators have been designing physical learning materials (‘manipulatives’) to help children learn. From Cuisenaire’s rods to Dienes’ Blocks, we have created numerical representations aiming to help children explore, interpret, and communicate mathematical ideas. Digital technology has enabled new representational forms: screen-based ‘virtual manipulatives’ that can change shape, size or colour, or double/disappear at the touch of a button. More recently we have seen digitally augmented physical designs (‘digital manipulatives’) claiming to unite the representational benefits of digital technology and physicality. This talk will discuss the potential of digital manipulatives to create novel and more powerful forms of numerical representations for children’s mathematical learning, using a particular example, Numbuko (, to ground discussions. Numbuko has been realised through a University of Edinburgh spinout company ‘PlayTalkLearn’ and consists of blocks that attach magnetically in any direction but change colour according to the specific number attached linearly: described as a ‘decomposable form of Cuisenaire rod’. Numbuko’s intention is to make pre-school mathematics playful; however, the design offers a focus for debate around why and how we should represent number, and the opportunities and challenges for designers seeking to create effective new materials.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2016


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