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Upcycle and Play with Maths Ideas

Published almost 2 years ago by Ann Baker


If you have learned with us, you know that we use what we like to call 'fluid materials' for maths. These are non-commercial cheap resources that we don’t have to be precious about nor will they confine our thinking in any particular ways.

While reflecting on the demands on budgets of commercially produced maths materials, the following thoughts emerged and will form the basis of classroom based action research that some of the schools that we are continuing to work with in 2017 will be inquiring about:

We have been making a list of free and collectable or consumable (no we won’t be eating them) mathematics materials. Shells if you live near a beach are all natural, free and accessible. However we can’t all go shell collecting. My thoughts moved onto the question:

“How can we upcycle every-day, free and found items to make them intrinsically appealing to students and provoke questions and curiosity both for ourselves and with students?”

Maths is not just about pencil and paper it is about thinking, creativity, exploring, solving and so much more. My first choice of upcyclable resources to think about was dried beans.

Magnitude and Numerosity with Coloured Beans

I have used dried beans for years but for some reason never coloured them before. As you can see they are easy to dye with harmless food colouring.

coloured beans

Even before I began to think about how to use them in the classroom I found myself having to think through some mathematical issues, concerned with creating them in the first place, e.g.:

• Estimating how many beans in a bag and how many bags I might need. • Deciding how many colours would be needed. • Wondering about the ratio of water to food colouring and how much mix to make and how long to leave the beans to soak and how long to allow for them to dry. • Should I make equal sized groups of each colour or different sized random groups or proportional groups?

The Inquiry Process

As I was pondering these things it occurred to me that the maths involved even at the planning stage was considerable and should be shared with students. Even better of course would be the students generating such questions and investigating them themselves. They could then engage in the process of making their own maths resource and ideas for using them. See our Store for lots of other maths and numeracy teaching ideas.

So what can we do with the coloured beans?

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