While on hall duty during my first year of teaching, I was surprised to see our math department chair leading her Calculus students to a large common area in the school. Curious, I checked in on them a few minutes after the class had started and found that they were plotting “points” by standing on a large coordinate grid mat on the floor. After watching the teacher use those mats over and over with students in Algebra 1 all the way through Calculus, I realized the value of this kinesthetic learning experience. Her students understood the concepts better, and were more engaged, because they were out of their seats and actively creating a life-sized visual model.
These kinds of experiences aren’t just limited to high school. Engaging students of any age through active, kinesthetic activities helps them better understand math concepts and eventually translate those concepts into more abstract representations. We now have two new tools to help teachers implement these kinds of activities: the Ten-Frame Floor Mat and the Number Path Floor Mat. Here’s an activity you can try with each one!
Ten-Frame Floor Mat
The ten-frame is a tool that many teachers have come to appreciate as an integral part of math instruction in the classroom. Use the large floor mat to introduce the ten-frame to students. Have students explore the properties of the ten-frame by filling the frame with students, one at a time. Have the students “count off” to show that it takes ten counters to fill the frame. Students will retain this image long after the activity ends.
After students are familiar with the ten-frame, teachers can continue to use students to model numbers, or use the giant two-color counters that are included with the mat.
Number Path Floor Mat
Number paths allow students to explore the number sequence and counting patterns in a very concrete way and provide for an easier transition to number lines. To help students visualize the concept of skip counting, use the vertical number path. Have students skip count by 2’s, starting first at 2 and “hopping” to the next number (2, 4, 6, etc.). This activity also works with another starting number (such as 1), or a different interval (count by 3’s).
The activity can also be done using several students and having them stand on the numbers at the appropriate intervals. Either method will help students visualize the pattern and really understand what it means to skip count.
Making Math Active
Kinesthetic activities that promote active learning help students make strong connections to the mathematical concepts they are exploring. As students build solid conceptual foundations, they are better prepared to apply their knowledge of math to new concepts and problems. It is well worth our time to plan purposeful activities that get students out of their seats and engaged in learning!