Friday, 6 January 2017

Must have materials and authentic contexts!

I am a big big believer in the importance of materials when teaching all levels.  I don't know about you, but I have always used my fingers, even today I will default to using my fingers if unsure of an answer - but boy oh boy I feel guilty every time I do it as if it should be forbidden and I am breaking some unwritten rule.

 I was one of those children who struggled with maths, maths was so abstract for me, I have memories of memorising my times tables (had no understanding of what was actually happening when we multiplied, but boy was I the fast, third in my class!)  I also have memories of mindlessly adding up numbers, filling in worksheets, I have no recollection of being given any materials to use, other than those horrible 10's 100's and 1000's blocks which I had absolutely no clue about.  My place value understanding was non-existent, but I knew that rule of carrying the one brilliantly!  Never mind that I actually did not realise that one stood for ten.

I also remember struggling, feeling guilty at having to use my fingers and being assigned a 'buddy' who happened to be outstanding at maths and probably hated having to explain everything to me.    Maths had no purpose for me, it had no real world value, in fact I came to hate it and carried that hate through to high school with me, where I was lucky to get 51% and pass the fifth form.  The year after I took what they called dubber maths.

It was not until I started teaching it that the veil of maths started to be pulled from my eyes and I gained an understanding of what was actually happening to the numbers when I was mindlessly filling in those worksheets, low and behold I also learned what the one actually stood for when I carried it.

The sad fact is that I grew up believing maths was hard and I was just plain stupid when it came to this day I will shut down if suddenly challenged to answer a maths question with any speed.

This brings me back to the actual point of this post.  I believe materials are crucial, visual maths strategies are a key to unlocking a real depth of understanding for children and I believe would have done wonders for me.  Linking the use of materials, with authentic contexts that appeal to children and give the maths a purpose are the key to appealing to all learners.  Number agents is a way I have found to do this, adding in a play based approach sees children's number sense and ability to interact with maths in the world around them grow.

This has become a big business, many companies are making a lot of money out of making pretty materials to be used in our maths programme, but my go to maths materials are not the expensive materials that can be found in the big thick catalogues we get sent.  My materials can usually be found in any Variety store around the country.  If you are anything like me, this is a good thing because budgets are tight.

Dice, amazing for a range of activities and can be used in so many ways.  Fabulous for helping children develop their awareness of patterns and groupings.

Playing cards are amazing, once again they can be used for a range of things and raise children's awareness and understanding s of groupings, so cool to lay playing cards out on the mat and ask agents what they notice.  My agents also love making groups with the bean counters you can see in this photo.  

Popsicle sticks....I love popsicle sticks.  Amazing for groupings, but also for geometry. We make a lot of shapes with these and children love using them at play based time.

Joining blocks are my go-to for making sets, I love them!  These are brilliant to help agents see that when we count it gets bigger by one.  These are also brilliant for measurement.

Laminated numbers are brilliant, we keep bags of them for agents to take away and work with independently.  The pattern cards are also fantastic!

Abacus - I love these, brilliant for place value awareness.  We have enough for each agent, but if the budget does not stretch a few larger ones are a good start.  

Dominoes are fabulous, we love them and use them for a range of activities.  

Everyday classroom items are brilliant for grouping.

I love these counters, red on one side and yellow on the other.  Relatively cheap for a large amount of them.  Great for creating number stories and helping children to understanding number stories for a specific group.  We use them a lot of making up friends to ten.

And of course fingers.  We use our fingers all of the time, I will never discourage an agent from using their fingers if this is the most effective strategy for them.  Fingers are one of the first tools that help the development of number sense.

Natural bits and pieces encourage children to count and sort.  Natural materials really help to bring out their creativity and imagination.  Having small containers to sort objects into is a great way to store them, but also allows children to find their own items and add to the collection.

Children don't need bells and whistles to develop their understandings in maths.  In fact the more simple the materials, the more you can do with them.  Children love extending their use of these items into their self-directed play based time as well.  There is so much that can be done with the cheapest of items, keep the budget up your sleeve for purchasing puppet villains :)

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