Article 7 – COMPUTE-A-COLOR© . . . What is it? © Ann Preus

All across this country there are people who have developed products that hold promise to make valuable contributions to education. Some were outgrowths of projects started with funding from the Department of Education several years ago. When the funding dried up so did the projects. Others were victims of market forces; school priorities change rapidly as pressures mount for changes in parts of the curriculum or new fads become the vogue.

One such program is COMPUTE-A-COLOR described here. Initiated in 1978 Ann Preus has persisted. Today it’s computerized. Ah, what goes around, comes around. Compute-A-Color deserves assessment. It may be something that can enhance children’s mastery of basic math skills. Perhaps you or someone you know would like to establish a pilot project. — ED


Compute-A-Color is a sensory approach for learning and understanding arithmetic with the help of color and mass. Prime numbers are color-coded, and their composites are Linked in color to visualize number relationships – the heart of mathematics.

A famous last century Hungarian mathematician named Paul Erdos touted primes, according to a 1987 Atlantic Monthly, as the “building blocks” of mathematics. Compute-A-Color believes this, and takes a step further – adding color to primes.

A color-coded math system

Only four focal colors are coded to the four prime numbers (2,3,5,7) between 1-10. Composite numbers (i.e., multiples of primes) are matched in color. This simple concept of color coded to number is applied to three-dimensional graduated numerals – unique only to this system.

Beginners can see and feel which numerals are thinner and which are thicker. Children can thereby create a “stairway” of these numerals – which shows a color -coded pattern of numbers. Number relationships become real as students see and group numerals in matching colors. Children can stack any combination of numerals side by side to feel matching thickness and “prove” what = what. Does this sound simple? It is!

Did you know?

Many of us never learned the words prime and composite in math class. Sad but true.

(Remember, Erdos called Primes “building blocks!”) [Here is a simple definition: a prime number is one which can only be divided evenly by itself and 1. Composite numbers are all others.] Too little attention may be given to the importance of understanding this concept. Can this be a reason so many kids have failing test scores and inadequate math skills?

Nowadays, the concept of prime numbers is not generally presented to students until about the fourth grade. In contrast, pre-school children who play with Compute-A-Color numerals are consciously and unconsciously being “rooted” to understand prime and composite number relationships, facts and concepts. “I get it!” is a familiar exclamation.

Understanding number relationships in math may be as vital as understanding human relationships in life.

A simple design

Compute-A-Color was designed to be simple. Indeed, it was designed out of a personal need to keep it simple. A speeding driver impacted my car, as well as my memory, music and math skills. For memory retraining, I leaned on my unfailing response to color, which had remained intact.

At the same time, I was a parent monitor in my daughter’s fourth grade math class. It needed a “boost” – something extra, to enjoy math and improve skills. That “something extra” was – COLOR! Eureka!

The logical use of color coded to number became the needed element to help demystify math. This simple color-code visualized the elegant pattern of prime and composite numbers, and brought energy to the classroom. Compute-A-Color worked!

Compute-A-Color math learning moves from concrete experiences to more abstract understanding, using the same color-code as a “bridge” to adult basic skills. It is appropriate for a broad range of age, skill levels and circumstances. The concept of color coded to number serves as visual “language” for non-English speaking students – and offers global learning opportunities.

The time is right

I designed this system in 1978 © copyrighted, registered, patented, sought research and acceptance for this sensory learning system. That was twenty-five years ago. A wonderful group of dedicated persons have persisted with me in this long journey. Paper, pencil and rote memory instruction are becoming “passe”.  The time is right for Compute-A-Color!

presenter_258Ann Preus Compute-A-Color© Copyrights since 1978. All rights reserved.
60 Seymour Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55414

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