Imagine this… As you sit with your guided math group, you quickly scan your math workshop rotations to check to see if students are engaged and on-task. At one of the stations, your students are independently working through and solving problems. You see one of your students look stuck, but then begin to think about what strategies she could use (just like you taught her). She checks her math tool kit and pulls out counters and a tens frame and goes on to confidently solve the problem. I can’t think of anything better than that. Can you?
This blog post will…
- explain what a math tool kit is and why it’s important for each student to have
- recommend how to organize and store math tool kits in your classroom
- suggest some ideas of what could be included in a math tool kit
What is a math tool kit?
A math tool kit is a collection of helpful printable reference tools and math manipulatives to support students in math. Each student in your (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade) classroom should have their own and be able to access it easily.
Why are math tool kits important?
Math tool kits are important because they empower students to select and use appropriate tools to help them solve problems, which is part of being a proficient mathematician. For example, the Common Core’s Standards for Mathematical Practice, also referred to as the math practices, identifies that students need to be able to model with mathematics and use appropriate tools strategically. Modeling with mathematics involves students being able to represent problems using objects, drawings, diagrams, equations, tables, graphs, etc. and use these representations to help them solve problems. Using appropriate tools strategically involves students being able to choose the best tools to help them solve problems. These tools include a pencil and paper, ruler, meter stick, measuring tape, calculator, hundreds chart, coins, base-ten blocks, three-dimensional shapes, tangrams, etc. Similarly, the TEKS’s Mathematical Process Standards identifies that students must be able to select tools, including real objects, manipulatives, paper and pencil, and technology as appropriate, and techniques, including mental math, estimation, and number sense as appropriate, to solve problems. Because this is such an integral part of being a mathematician, it is incredibly important for elementary students to begin practicing these very important skills through the use of their own math tool kits.
How should I organize and store my students’ math tool kits?
Here are 3 things to consider when organizing and storing your students’ math tool kits:
- Store them in a place where students can access them independently. For example, you could store them in a crate or on a shelf at a position where students can reach them. Similarly, you could hang them on command hooks on a wall in your classroom. Again, be sure to hang them low enough so students can grab them as they need them. Consider having students store them in their desk if you think that would work for your individual classroom.
- Label the container holding the tool kits with student numbers instead of their names so they can be used year after year. You could also consider labeling each of the tools inside of it with student numbers to help you and your students return a missing item to the appropriate container.
- Consider using a pencil box, large ziploc bag, or a clear plastic bag with a hook to hold and organize the contents of the math tool kit. You could also think about using smaller ziploc bags to organize the manipulatives inside of the larger container. Don’t be afraid to ask for donations from students’ families or add it to your supply list at the beginning of the school year.
What should be in a math tool kit?
The contents of a math tool kit depends on what grade level you teach. Check out this blog post all about math manipulatives to get ideas for which ones make sense for your grade level. In addition to the list of math manipulatives, consider these printable resources: 100 chart, 120 chart, number line, five frame, ten frame, twenty frame, addition chart, multiplication chart, number cards with visual representation and number name, part part whole mat, number bond mat, related facts mat, place value chart with models, days of the week chart, days of the month chart, math vocabulary dictionary, math fact flash cards, and calendar.