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Strategy Mats: tools for learning

Published 8 months ago by Ann Baker

Just imagine that for the last little while, students have been immersed in the vocabulary and strategies needed for a particular concept, let’s use early addition as an example.

Students have been learning about counting on, doubles, rainbow facts and near doubles for single digit addition and it seems reasonable to expect them to apply the strategies to games and problem solving. However, they revert to counting all and the use of fingers. We often see that, without consistent practice, constant reminders and positive feedback for using these strategies, students tend not to think, “Do I have a strategy for these numbers, what is the best strategy here?”

At this point, we need to ask where and what support tools are available to students to ensure that they do think about strategies before rushing in.

Looking around many classrooms I see posters expected to be used as aide-memoires, but more often than not they are not in the immediate line of sight for students to refer to. These posters are usually on the wall, often too high or at the back of the room. What use are they to students on the job? The answer is not much.

Where do they need to be? They need to be right there under students noses where they can refer to and interact with the strategies and vocabulary.

Recently a teacher complained that despite all the work she had done with addition strategies, they were not being applied by most of her students who happily used 'count all' or 'count on' as their preferred strategies when playing games. Unsurprisingly, the posters were up in her room, but they were out of sight, out of mind.

The Natural Maths strategy mats series have been designed with this need for immediacy in mind. Each mat is double sided. One side is organised as a teaching or review tool where the headings: See It, Say It and Show It are used. Students need to name and ‘read’ a number sentence and see that it can be shown in multiple representations. The second side is interactive with specially designed working spaces for recording and exploring.

Teachers laminate enough strategy mats for each student, and use them as place mats on desks while students are working. They provide an aide-memoire or prompt as well as working space for recording during mental routines, problem solving or playing games.

Each low cost strategy mat includes a teacher booklet with Mental Routines and games.

I recently watched a class playing Target Number, one of the games suggested for the early addition strategy mats. I was impressed with students fluent use of the listed strategies and choice of working space provided as they used and recorded on the mats. Students had been taught to stop, think about which strategy matched a particular pair of numbers and refer to the illustrated list before thinking about the answer. Students were talking to each other about which strategy to choose, ‘No we shouldn’t count on 4, 4 and 5 are a near double so that’s faster’ and '6 and 4 is a rainbow fact so that is 10'.

These students were using the mat as a tool to extend their own mathematical thinking. No teacher intervention required. Powerful learning indeed as we build fluency with key strategies that will develop powerful mathematicians.

There are 8 mats in the series: addition, subtraction, multiplication, angles, fractions and more, click here for details.

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