Roman Numerals in Mathematics and Language Arts


Many Montessori materials contain elements that link to one another, often bridging the gap between two or more content areas that might seem like an unlikely match. Take the use of Roman numerals, for instance. The first place that many Lower Elementary students ran into Roman numerals this year was not in Mathematics, but in Language Arts!

The Montessori Grammar Boxes use Roman numerals as a way of distinguishing between different levels of the material. Students start off by working with the filling boxes labeled II A, II B, II C, and so on, and then they move to the filling boxes labeled III A, III B, III C, etc. The Roman numerals on each box represent how many different parts of speech students will be working with inside of the box, with the boxes labeled II including only articles and nouns (there are no boxes labeled I because the Grammar Boxes demonstrate different parts of speech as they relate to each other, requiring at least two parts of speech to begin with).

Students sort through the word cards from the filling boxes, arranging them by their parts of speech. Next they work with larger, rectangular cards that demonstrate phrases or sentences which the students then re-create, both with word cards and with pencil on paper. Finally, students stamp or draw the appropriate Montessori grammar symbol above each word that they have written. While the word cards from the filling boxes as well as the Montessori grammar symbols themselves are both color-coded, the colors are not always the same across materials. This is done intentionally so that students cannot complete the activity only by using color association, and must be thinking at a deeper level in order to understand the category that each word belongs to.

At the same time that our students are completing their first Grammar Boxes, they are also working with the Roman Numerals Hundred Board in Mathematics. As with the standard Hundred Board, there are 100 numbered tiles that must be arranged in order on a square grid. But unlike the standard Hundred Board, there is no control chart for the Roman Numeral Hundred Board. Instead, students are given a list of the Roman numerals for the numbers 1-10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, and 100, and they must use their own reasoning and logic skills to figure out exactly what number is represented by, say, LXXVIII. This process requires lots of addition along the way! Many students like to use the control chart for the standard Hundred Board as an extra guide to help them find the correct place on the grid to put each tile once they decipher each Roman numeral.

It’s a joy to watch the work on the Roman Numerals Hundred Board begin to influence how students understand the ordering of the Grammar Boxes. Students will often correct themselves mid-sentence, saying, “Today I completed Grammar Box I-I-I-B… I mean, 3-B!”

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