Learning Environment

Make This a DIY Summer, Part Three: Math Manipulatives & Centers

Taking math concepts beyond pencil and paper calculations to create meaningful learning experiences.

Our Make This a DIY Summer series kicked off with adding some alternative seating ideas and helping students nestle into reading nooks. As teachers are crafting away and collecting materials to enliven the classroom and engage more learners, it’s only fair to give the mathematical realm a whirl. It’s doubtful that anyone’s childhood was exempt from math fact and timed test worksheets, so a DIY overhaul on some creative manipulatives and centers is the perfect solution to breaking away from a skill and drill approach. Designing some engaging stations for math centers and/or adding some new manipulatives to the mix can be the perfect DIY fix to getting students excited about everything number.

Muster New Manipulatives

Hit garage sales, online yard sales, attics, basements, etc. to collect some new and/or gently used manipulatives that can hold a variety of mathematical applications. As kids and families grow out of certain toy and game phases, some great bargains can be found, and discarded novelties can be repurposed in the classroom. These are just a few key items to keep on the radar when building a DIY math resource collection is on the agenda.

Legos– All kids love them, but they are more than just building blocks. A bin of Legos can be the subject of a variety of sorts. Size, color, shape thickness, etc. are just a few possible sorts that can be assigned, or students can devise a sort category of their own. For older students, these builders make for a perfect visual representation of fractions. Students can use a larger piece as a base plate and then attach smaller pieces on the top to show different fractional representations. Be on the lookout for families purging mismatched Lego collections!

Game Pieces/Tokens– Gently used games make for great manipulative finds. A station idea may be collecting a bevy of dice to allow student to roll and add, or dice can be used to complete a math lab on probability. Pawns and/or tokens can be used to show one-to-one correspondence in counting exercises. Scrabble tiles can make their way to math centers as students create original words or those from a list to calculate the combined value of all the letters, and by flipping the tiles and grabbing a Sharpie, Number Scrabble can be created. Throw some dominoes into the mix, and students can count, sort, add fractions, and/or match tiles to corresponding number cards.

Miniatures– Any small trinkets or figurines can be used to create word problems and bring them to life. A miniature dinosaur collection, cars, or any other collective countable can bring a fun fervor to manipulating objects for counting and/or problem solving. By replacing bland counters or tallies on a page with likeable objects, a likeable reaction to math study will surely be the result!

Playing Cards– These small and stackable counters can find more uses than gameplay in the classroom. Although, a game of War is always a good way to reinforce the concept of greater than and less than. Cards can be sorted by suit, color, or number. Random cards can be drawn and added, multiplied, chronologically ordered, etc. Don’t toss out a deck with a missing card or two. Manipulative combinations can also be created as students draw a card and count out the corresponding number of miniatures.

Showcase Some Creative Handiwork

While repurposed items are wonderful, some true DIY projects that involve more than a little bargain shopping or attic cleaning can also be quite beneficial.

Geoboards– These boards are relatively easy to make and are great for young mathematicians. Cardboard and dowels can be used to create a simple version. For a sturdier base, pre-cut wooden boards can be used or those with some woodworking skills can fashion boards in any size of their choosing. By inserting push pins, nails, or some other peg mechanism, a geoboard is created. Add the rubber bands, and students have a tangible platform for working with shape creation, area, perimeter, etc.

Math Fact Memory– Transform a deck of cards or create an original deck by laminating a heavier cardstock. Place a math fact on one card and its solution on another. For a self-check system, be sure that the matches have the same image on them. An original deck could achieve this with corresponding stickers, symbols, words, etc. When students place all cards facedown, let the learning begin! This is just one game idea for card creation. With cardstock and lamination, the possibilities are endless!

Spinners– Whether the need is for a single spinner or an entire collection, there are lots of affordable ways to devise these revolving contraptions. Cork board and pushpins offer a sturdy twirl, but some cardstock, brads, and paperclips can also get the whirling job done. Spinners can be used to move along gameplay, complete a lab on chance, and/or customized spinners can be spun for any number of reasons. It would be untimely not to mention the newly popular fidget spinner, and many teachers have found a plethora of ways to embrace it within the curriculum. Imagine the smiles if a DIY set of these pop culture gadgets were to appear in the classroom next year.

It all boils down to the fact that summer DIY projects don’t have to be grand or costly to have an impact on learning. From seating, to reading, to mathematics, teachers can set their shopping and crafting sights on integrating some great resources into the classroom at affordable prices. Savvy bargain hunting and a little sweat equity go a long way, and the DIY ideas don’t stop here. Our next installment in Make This a DIY Summer will focus on creating welcoming bulletin boards to get the new school year off to a stellar start!

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