Know Your Tools

Math teacher's tools are quite numerous nowadays.

First of all of course comes a black or white board, or paper - something to write on, pencil, compass, protractor, ruler, eraser.
And the book you're using.
Then we also have computer software, animations and activities online, animated lessons and such.
There are workbooks, fun books, worktexts, online texts.
Then all the manipulatives, abacus, measuring cups, scales, algebra tiles, and so on.
And then there are games, games, games.

The choices are so numerous it's daunting. What's a teacher to do?

Well, you just have to get started somewhere, probably with the basics, and then add to your "toolbox" little by little as you have opportunity.

There is no need to try 'hog' it all at once. It's important to learn how to use any tool you might acquire. Quantity won't equal quality. Knowing a few "math tools" inside out is more beneficial than a mindless dashing to find the newest activity to spice up your math lessons.

Basic tools

1) The board and/or paper to write on. Essential. Easy to use.

2) The book or curriculum. Choosing a math curriculum is often difficult for homeschoolers. Check my curriculum pages for some help. Keep these two things in mind:
i) Now matter what book you're using, YOU as the teacher have the control. Don't be a slave to the curriculum. You can skip pages, rearrange the order in which to teach the material, supplement it, and so on.
ii) Don't despair if the book you're using doesn't seem to be the perfect choice for your student. You can quite likely sell it on homeschool swap boards, and buy some other one.

3) Manipulatives. I once saw a question asked by a homeschooling parent, on the lines, "What manipulatives must I use and when?" The person was under the impression that manipulatives are a "must".

Manipulatives are definitely emphasized in these days. They are usually very good, but they're not the end goal of math education, and there is no need to "go hog wild" over them.

Manipulatives are something the student manipulates with his hands to get a better grasp of something. But the goal is to learn to do math without them.

Some of the most helpful manipulatives are:
  • abacus
    A 100-bead abacus

  • base ten blocksSomething to illustrate hundreds/tens/ones place value. I made my daughter ten-bags by putting marbles into little plastic bags. You can buy base ten math blocks. These are sets of tiny blocks for ones, sticks for tens, flats for hundreds, and large cubes for thousands. See an image on the right.

  • Some sort of fraction manipulatives. You can just make pie models out of cardboard, even. Stores sell ready-made fraction models made of foam or plastic. The one below sells for less than $10 at
    fraction manipulatives
For many kids, drawing pictures can take the place of manipulatives. That is especially true in the middle grades and on.

Check out also some virtual manipulatives.

4) Geometry and measuring tools. These are pretty essential However, dynamic software can these days replace compass and ruler and easily be far better.

The extras

These are, obviously, too many to even start listing.

*Some game or games are good for drilling basic facts. Games are nice for about any topic. Here's one that I played with playing cards with my dd; and now she seems to have learned the sums that add to 10. And here's a game that's worth 1000 worksheets. Of course the internet is full of online math games.

*I would definitely use some math software if teaching graphing, algebra, or calculus. Check MathProf for example, or Math Mechanixs. I've listed a few more here.

If you're ready to add something new to your toolbox from the online world, try The Math Forum's MathTools - a library of technology tools, lessons, activities, and support materials. Check also my pages listing interactive math activities online (there's a menu on the right).

Let me know if I forgot something.
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