Lakeshore Love: Math Manipulatives

I went shopping at my favorite teaching supply store today: Lakeshore Learning. I didn’t buy anything at Lakeshore before school started. Probably the first year in a long time I haven’t. But I wanted to get my students some bookmarks, and it’s tax-free weekend here in the Lone Star State, and Lakeshore was having 20% off selected items…so you can see the necessity of the trip!

I got some Rainbow Color Cubes for my PS+ Math Enrichment offering. PS+ is the before-and after-school program at my school. Staff members have signed up to provide everything from tutoring to art to jump-roping for students before and after the traditional school day. I came up with what I think is a brilliant idea – offer a math club for third and fourth graders! It’s brilliant because I will get to work with my former students, and I will be able to teach math concepts that are not included in the math curriculum we use, which I’m really excited about, so the whole scheme is really very self-serving.

Lakeshore has a wide selection of math manipulatives, games, and activities. Here are some of my favorites:

1″ Color Cubes

These are great for creating patterns (or “patterens”, as second graders like to say); exploring length, width, area, and perimeter; measuring the weight of an object on a balance scale; and building fortresses and castle walls and catacombs. I plan to use them for my after-school math club, teaching lessons from Twenty Thinking Questions for Rainbow Cubes, a book I inherited from my mom when she retired.

Another must have for the math classroom: 

Pattern Blocks

These versatile blocks inspire children to create elaborate designs, which develop an understanding of geometry, spatial relationships, and fractions. My students cannot get enough of Pattern Blocks. The more they work with them, the more complex their designs become, often extending into the third dimension and demonstrating an understanding of the relationships between the blocks (two trapezoids equal one hexagon, three triangles equal one trapezoid, etc.)

If I could only have one kind of manipulative in my classroom, it would probably be these:

Unifix Cubes

You can teach so many concepts with Unifix Cubes: patterns, measurement, basic facts, two-digit addition and subtraction, multiplication, division, probability, and I’m sure there are other things I’ve forgotten. From demonstrating 3+2=5 to predicting what colors are in a bag of 20 cubes, this classic manipulative is a teacher’s best friend. My favorite teaching resource is Kathy Richardson’s Developing Number Concepts with Unifix Cubes series. It covers number sense from K through 3rd grade, although it can certainly be used with older or younger kids. The publisher now has Activity Cards to use with the lessons in the books.

The best part about these is that they don’t make any noise:

Geometric Foam Shapes

It is so easy to teach kids the features of geometric solids when they can physically touch the blocks, counting the number of faces, vertices, and edges on each one. I don’t have foam blocks in my classroom; I have a very old set of wooden blocks that I’ve cobbled together from retired teachers. The cool thing about the old blocks is that there are unusual shapes – like half spheres, eggs, and octagonal prisms.

When I was at Lakeshore today, I was reminded of this nifty teaching tool:

Monkey Math

One of the concepts I’ve really tried to emphasize in the last few years is that “equals” does not mean “the answer is coming next.” The equal sign indicates balance: what is on one side is equal to what is on the other side of the sign. Which is why 3+4=2+5, something that is obvious to us but difficult for 7 year olds to grasp, especially if they are accustomed to thinking they have to answer “What is 3+4?” when they see the left side of the equal sign. Monkey Math allows me to demonstrate this concept in a way that is easy for my students to understand. The bananas are weighted, so  6 bananas are heavier than 2 bananas, and I can swap out numbers on either side of the scale to demonstrate how both sides of the monkey have to balance or be “equal.”

Lakeshore has so many materials to support mathematics instruction, it would be impractical for me to write about all of them in one post. I’ll highlight games and activities in another entry.

Oh, and I saved over $25 today!

1 thought on “Lakeshore Love: Math Manipulatives

  1. I love math manipulatives. You can never have too many. I visit the teaching supply store often and always walk away with something new that they kids and I will enjoy.

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