When I think of all of the teaching "tools" that I have used over the years, one always stands out as my favorite, especially in the area of math -- Math Tiles! I really can't say enough about how effective these are in the classroom. Not only have they completely changed the way my students approach and tackle problem solving, they engage students and build confidence. I will never teach in a classroom without math tile activities, and here's why...
1. They are non-routine: Math tile activities can be solved in multiple ways and do not necessarily require a standard algorithm. Each activity is different and needs to be approached in a unique way. This non-routine element is essential for our students if we want them to be versatile problem solvers who are comfortable facing unfamiliar situations. Math tiles truly teach students how to think!
2. They encourage perseverance: When my students first encounter a new math tile activity their initial responses sound similar to... "this is impossible," "this doesn't make sense," "I think there is a mistake on this." This is especially true for students who have never been exposed to math tiles before. However, after some trial and error, their amazing minds take over and the self-doubt is extinguished. They soon realized that, with time and dedication they CAN complete these! There is nothing better than hearing the chorus of "Oh, I get it!" in your classroom.
3. They build confidence: As teachers we constantly observe students "shutting down" as soon as they are faced with a challenging problem. Many students are fearful of failure and lack the confidence to try something that looks difficult. After just a few months of using math tiles in my classroom, I notice a drastic difference in these students. They become more comfortable with the idea of a challenge. In fact once they complete a few math tile activities on their own, they are fired up for more and there is no stopping them.
4. They go beyond the standard algorithm: Math tile activities require students to think beyond a standard algorithm or prescribed set of steps. Students must consider multiple concepts (place value, algebra, operations, etc.) at once. This depth really allows students to develop a true understanding of math.
5. They save paper: Do you ever feel like a "paper pusher" handing out worksheets to your students? I know I did at times. Once you make and laminate your cards, math tiles require very little paper. In fact for one set of math tiles (30 activities), students will only use 1 single page of paper! No more running out of copies each month.
6. They allow for independence: Math tiles are the perfect activity when you need to keep students busy in a meaningful way so that you can teach a small group or individual. If you're teaching a "combo class," one grade level can be doing math tiles independently, while you teach the other grade level a lesson. I will add that math tiles also make a perfect cooperative activity as well; just have students pair up and keep your ears open for some great "math talk."
7. They are "quick and easy": Not a minute is wasted in my class thanks to math tiles. They can be done at a moment's notice with no prep and very little transition time. If we finished a lesson early, students could grab their math tiles and activity cards in less than 30 seconds and be working!
8. They are hands-on: Students can actively move the number tiles around as they think through the activities. This tactile quality adds to the level of engagement and keeps students focused on the problem.
I encourage you to try math tiles with your students! You can download a free set of math tile task cards HERE. You can make your own number tiles (instructions in the above download above, or you can purchase the ones pictured in this post HERE).If you get a chance to implement these in your classroom, I would love to hear back from you!