Motivate and engage your learners with hands-on materials

When you are considering maths teaching strategies, keep in mind that you will be able to motivate and be more successful if you can include some variety and fun into your strategies. This is the case for all subjects but it’s really important for maths because it can be very abstract to teach and learn.

Using practical materials helps maths ideas become concrete and helps your students understand ideas. Conducting practical tasks helps with problem solving skills and boosts your students’ confidence.

For teachers of secondary students and adult learners the problem is finding practical materials suitable for older learners. When your pupils were in primary school they almost certainly used a range of hands-on resources to help them understand mathematical concepts.

These manipulatives will have helped them explore, discover, calculate, sort and assess. The list of useful resources for maths suitable for younger children is almost endless. For older pupils you need to take care that they aren’t too childish. There are lots of things that you can use.

  • Geometric shapes and models
  • Rulers
  • Dice and dominoes
  • Base ten blocks for place value
  • Chocolate bars – great for fractions
  • Coins
  • Counters
  • Decks of cards (add, subtract, multiply)

I used sets of geometric shapes in a maths lesson with a class of young offenders. Their first reaction was hostile – they hadn’t used such resources since primary school and took offence. Once they started to use the shapes to build figures and explore the concepts, this practical work really paid off. It helped them understand the main point of the lesson which was to measure angles in polygons. We spent several subsequent lessons looking at the practical application of maths in buildings (an end result has been Axis Education’s Maths in Building Design).

If you want to be certain that the hands on resources you use are suitable for your learners, we have gathered a fantastic collection of games, dice and dominoes that you can rely on to be age-appropriate and non-patronising for your students. See for full details.

Using practical manipulatives does require a lot of prior planning and organisation and when you use them in class you need to make sure students understand the rules as discipline can be an issue. However, the many benefits of using hands on resources mean that it really is worth the effort. With hands on materials your students will find that maths is fun, exciting and somehow more achievable.

Don't get me wrong - using maths textbooks, worksheets and lecturing are all part of teaching maths. And if you are familiar with Axis Education’s resources you will know that we specialise in resources that capitalise on practical applications of maths to make maths truly meaningful. But if you can use practical materials as well, then you’ll be able to demonstrate to your students that maths can be exciting and creative too.

Happy teaching!

Jayne Garner

Jayne Garner
MEd (Literacy), PGCE, Dip SpLD, AMBDA

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