Iowa City man crafts number-learning tool


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For 35 years, Ralph Ramer read the scores for statewide education testing. As the lead computer-systems analyst, he didn't like what he saw.

It seemed to him that kids were falling behind in math, and from that moment on, he was determined to create a tool that would open up the world of mathematics to children.

Graduating with a degree in mathematics from the University of Iowa in 1974, Ramer's experience with numbers runs deep.

And with a little motivation from his granddaughters Callie and Grace, "Digit, The Number Toy" was created.

The now retired 64-year-old Iowa City resident wanted to have many representations of a number on each page of the colorful, laminated flipbook-style toy. He said that approach could be helpful for children with individual learning styles.

The book features the numbers 0 to 13 and includes an infinity page as well.

"I went to infinity because that's how far the numbers go," Ramer said. "I just thought kids should have a broader vision of numbers than just 1 through 10."

Each page is double-sided featuring a traceable number, the number written in English and Spanish, a picture of a hand representing the number, a picture of a zoo animal, and the animal's name in English and Spanish.

Libby Shannon of Goosetown Graphics helped Ramer with the design of the book.

When Ramer first came to Shannon with the idea, he said it would be a small project, but it took a year to create as more ideas were tacked on to each page.

Shannon involved a young neighbor of hers, Liam, to model for the book.

"Sometimes, it was hard for him to get his fingers to work right," Shannon said. "But Liam loves playing with the book."

Liam isn't the only child who enjoys navigating the toy.

Katie Lapp, Ramer's daughter and a kindergarten teacher, said her students love to use the dry-erase markers on the book and figure out how to use their hands to match what they see in the pictures.

"I think it's really cool because it's bright and has really beautiful pictures, and the English and Spanish fits into my classroom nicely," Lapp said. "It's letting the kids do math in a fun way, and it's able to explain what they are thinking and why things work."

Though Ramer sells the books on Digittoy.com, he said he considers his to be a nonprofit move.

"I'd like to see millions sold, but it's about the kids learning math," he said. "There are lots of kids who have good opportunities to learn math but don't have the resources. I want to publish enough so everyone will be able to afford them."

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