How Do We Visualize Numbers?

  • How well do you visualise numbers?
  • Seeing numbers is an essential skill for mathematics
  • When you can visualise words, visualising numbers is even easier

Imagine the number 21.  Check that you see the number still, just like you did the cat, balloon, or sophisticated in the previous exercise.

If you find visualising numbers easy,

  • add the numbers 21 and 24.  Do you see them in your head as if they were in a photograph?  What’s the result of the two added numbers?
  • how would you organize a phone number into 3 or 4 chunks of 2 or 3 digits to remember it?
  • to remember a PIN, see the group of its numbers as if it was in a photograph. Or see the order in which you press the PIN’s keys on a keypad
  • to remember start times of meetings visualize the digital time, e.g. 12:30 on the face of a digital or analog clock

If you find visualising numbers difficult,

  • try visualizing the number 2. If that’s difficult, see 2 eggs.  Then see the word eggs.
  • if you like text messaging, imagine ‘nice 2 c u’ or ‘c u l8r’. If you can see that, you can visualize numbers.
  • if you have used an abacus, play with visualizing the beads when you want to add up.

Why are the numbers we use in the Western world of the shapes they are? They are derived from the Phoenician numerals which denoted the number of angles corresponding to the written number.  The shape of the number 1 had one angle, the shape of the number 2 had two angles, and the shape of the number 9 had 9 angles.