Teaching history using multi-link

Children often find it hard to interpret abstract concepts from history and can find it

even harder to contextualise ideas such as power, trade and significance. So how can we help them to understand these concepts much clearer? Well, we can give them experiences of each of these things using simple multi-link maths cubes! By giving them these physical resources and using groups of children to represent groups of people from history, we can show them clear examples of what life was like in the past and how some of these systems actually worked.

Stone Age to Iron Age – showing the significance of farming over hunting and gathering

Essentially, it can be argued that this was one of the, if not THE biggest achievement that developed us to where we are now. So for that reason, we really need the children to grasp it. So how can we?

Split the class or a handful of children into groups – give one group a few cubes, another group a few more than the last group and the final group the whole box. Give that last group SO much multi-link that they could swim in the stuff! Tell the first group that they are hunter-gatherers and their cubes are food – nuts, berries and some meat. Tell them to ‘eat’ their food (put it in their pockets or in a tub somewhere) – what happens now? You’ve got no food! Give them a few cubes more and eat it once again. Now don’t give them any more…this area has no more food to gather! Now they’ll have to move to the next group who have some cubes. Discouragingly tell the second group NOT to share with the first group – after all, they worked hard for what little food they have! You could even ‘kill’ off one of the second group who died fighting a wild animal. Have the second group eat all of their food. Now neither of them have any, what will they do? Have them move to the final group who have more food than they have ever seen! Ask the final group to eat their food and as they do, keep filling up their supplies. This last group are farmers and they can produce enough food to keep them going forever. The other two groups now need to ask for help – let the farmers decide whether to help them or not.

What you’ve just managed to successfully demonstrate is how important farming was, not only in terms of producing copious amounts of food, but also the fact that they DIDN’T have to move for it and you’ve also shown them the balance of power – the ones who held the food often held the power too!

Roman Empire – what was the impact of the Roman Empire?

For children to really understand how an empire works and the networks that can be forged because of one, they need to experience it!

Set the children into groups – one of these groups will be the Romans and the other groups will be people that the Romans took over as part of their empire. Give each group some cubes, making sure that each group has a certain colour – these will be that place’s ‘resource’, so Britain could have grey cubes for tin and iron etc. Make sure that the Romans have only a few cubes to begin with. Tell one of the groups that the Romans have ‘invaded’ them and so now they must give some of their cubes to the Romans. Have the Romans explain what they have just gained from conquering that place. Do this with another few groups, taking a few cubes at a time. If any of the children refuse to hand it over, this is a ‘rebellion’ and so the Romans must deal with it! ‘Kill’ off a child who rebels (have them sit on the floor or stand to one side) and take some of their cubes. Then ask the others from that group what they want to do – highlight that one of their group is dead and that hasn’t stopped the Romans from taking their stuff! Every time the Romans gain some cubes, that group is now a part of the empire and so the Romans will protect them. Quietly tell one of the Romans that somewhere in their empire is going to be invaded and so they must protect it (just stand in front of that group). Now have one of the ‘unconquered’ territories try to invade somewhere in the Roman Empire – they can’t because the Romans will defend it. Send the attackers back. Now take a look at the amount and colour of the cubes that the Romans have – what does this mean? Have them send out some of the various colour cubes to places that don’t have that colour. What do they al