Taking the learning further
‘Doing’ maths with Roman numerals is a bit of a mixed bag. Adding and subtracting using Roman numerals is actually very easy but multiplication, division and fractions are much more of a challenge. The lack of a zero is a huge disadvantage so it’s little surprise that Indo-Arabic numerals slowly replaced Roman ones over the years.
Getting hands-on and minds-on is fundamental to really ‘getting’ Roman Numerals. I often find using safe matchsticks is a great way for children to not just form the numerals but also practise some addition and subtraction. Why not set a few word problems using them? Or you could play a sequence game where children can time each other to see how fast they can put Roman numerals in the correct sequence starting with the smallest number. I often set up some Roman numerals multiplication or division problems but just be careful, make sure the ‘times’ sign is in lower case to ensure there’s no confusion!
Roman numerals can be practised playing hopscotch, loop games, using input/output machines and number balances, as part of Venn diagrams and Carroll diagrams, to make magic squares, used as coordinates, for area and perimeter calculations, for codebreaking, exchanging money, playing calendar games, dice games, number snap, addition and subtraction grids and much more.
While learning to read and write, Roman numerals might not be the most important maths children will learn. There is still value in it because it is a fun way to integrate maths into history lessons, reinforce other maths concepts and develop children’s maths stamina, resilience and interest.