How to Make Math Manipulatives from Recycled Materials

Teachers often give the excuse that their Mathematics lessons are Talk-and-Chalk in nature because they simply have none of the impressive Mathematics manipulatives that rich schools could afford. They have failed to realize that Mathematics is indeed around them, and what better way is there than to know how to make Mathematics manipulatives from recycled materials?

Take a look around the room that your computer is placed, or if you are at a cafe or fast food restaurant, you are in for a greater surprise. There are indeed many items that you can recycle and make good use of, to help your pupils concretise Mathematics learning, and have a fun and experiential learning environment, rather than just memorising formulas and problem-solving steps or purchasing tons of commercially produced Mathematics manipulatives that soon become white elephants or get stolen by creative pupils who choose to use them for other purposes.

Mathematics manipulatives range from simple countables to sophisticated electronic measurement machines. Here are some ways your recycled materials can be turned into Mathematics manipulatives, often without much cost and with little sweat from yourself. Parents and older school children are more than willing to lend a hand, if you know how to buy them in. Your manipulatives could cost as little as ten dollars for a pot of hot coffee and delicious doughnuts from the neighborhood bakery, or baked by another parent helper.

What makes great countables? Children get bored easily. Yet they learn Mathematics best when they layer on knowledge that is related to what they are at home with and what they know best. Bread clips, also know as bread tags, bread tabs, bread-bag clips or bread ties, come with the bread stored in plastic bags. Ask the pupil population of your school to bring in their bread clips for a year, and you will have sufficient to last years.

Have a box placed somewhere noticeable in your school grounds, and your school pupils will not only be learning how to recycle, but they will also be contributing to better Mathematics results in your school. Because they are in abundance, spoilt ones can be replaced easily – without adding a single cent to the stretched school budget.

How do the humble bread clips contribute to Mathematics learning? Not only do they make better countables than rolling marbles, because of their standard square or rectangular sizes, they can be placed squarely on a table and arranged in neat rows. Because bread clips come in attractive colors, they can be used to represent different items, and be used to teach parts of a whole. Bread clips can be arranged in rows of ten easily and neatly, making counting easier for an already bewildered slow learner.

Because of their handy size, and their inconspicuous existence in society, they are lesser victims of theft than colorful magnetic buttons. The invention of the visualizer has also added value to the humble bread clip as a wonderful Mathematics manipulative, as teachers could place them on the visualizer, project their images onto the whiteboard, and teach a class more easily than having to tack them onto the board with rubberised tack.

From helping pupils to learn to count, the ever faithful bread clips migrate with the pupils to other more complex topics such as square numbers, squares and square roots, by arranging the bread clips in arrays of 2×2, 3×3, 4×4, and so on. Once they are familiar with this topic, it is not difficult to extend their knowledge to finding area and perimeter of squares and rectangles, and by combining shapes of different colors, children can move on to other compound rectilinear figures with ease. Place different colored bread clips into 10×10 arrays, and you have a simple manipulative to teach the concept of percent!

Other more commonly used countables are used buttons, recycled straws and ice cream or popsiclesticks, and candy sticks. Make sure these are soaked overnight in dishwashing detergent solution, and dried out completely, to avoid mold and contamination. Dry, hardy twigs make cheap countables too, except that they can become victim to the ever resilient termites, and become a curse to your cabinets.

Recycle pipe cleaners, rods and pipes as rulers or manipulatives to teach estimation of length. Make centimeter and meter marks on rods with a permanent marker. Pupils often have difficulty imagining how anything beyond a meter long looks. By making rods or pipes two or three meters long, pupils have a great resource to look at and capture a mental picture of lengths longer than a meter.

How do you make Mathematics manipulatives to teach capacity and volume? Let us go back to the fast food restaurants and cafes around us. Thousands of cups are thrown away day. Instead, they could be soaked overnight in dishwashing detergent solution, dried and used as containers for the countables, or manipulatives to teach capacity and volume. Measure an amount of water, pour it into the cup, put in the callibrations and walla, you have your own measuring containers courtesy of fast food restaurants.

Soap and shampoo containers make similar measuring cylinders, and are better than cups as they have a uniform cross-section. The use of the different sized and shaped containers also help pupils to have a better mental and visual imagery of what capacity and volume is all about. Medicinal plastic bottles are even better, as they come with handy callibrations, and they are often discarded instead of being reused. Soak them in scented shampoo water for a couple of days, then in water, and they can be used as measuring cylinders without the smell of medicine to remind their users of sickly days.

Recycle old furniture and sturdy foam pieces into centimeter cubes, and cubes of different dimensions to teach volume and capacity as well. You could also get parents to fold hardy brochures into rectangular or cubic containers of various sizes, with the white backing on the outside to be labeled the capacity of the containers, so that pupils can get a better mental and visual imagery of different capacities.

Are you in need of fraction discs? Simply cut up discarded unwanted drink coasters into the different fractions required.Make fraction strips from recycled exercise book covers, damaged plastic folders, simply by cutting them into strips of the same size, folding them into different denominators and marking along the folded edges. There is no need to buy the colored printed ones that kids would be tempted to take home for purposes other than the learning of Mathematics!

Unwanted unused party plates make great clock faces. Mark the positions of the twelve hours on the rim. Use rivets to attach two strips cut out from a recycled cup or plate, one to mark the hour hand and the other, the minute hand. You might even want to write the words hour and minute on the correct hand. Before you attach the hands, get pupils to decorate the clock faces and write the numbers one to twelve on the correct positions of the clock.

Pupils often get confused by the many lines on a protractor. Have you ever thought of making simplified protractors out of the stiff plastic sheet that come with certain containers or as a protection sheet on new computer and television screens? Instead of throwing them away, enlist the help of parents to draw and cut out simplified protractors from them. Instead of marking the usual two-way readings, mark some beginning from the left arm, and others beginning from the right arm. With a fine-nibbed permanent pen, draw in only in fives and tens, the zero, ninety and the hundred-and-eighty degree marks. Prepare special worksheets of angles in multiples of five and ten to go along with these special protractors, and you have wonderful tools to teach pupils who cannot tell their right from their left how to use the protractor.

Christmas is a time of giving, and when people receive gifts of products they have at home, the old is usually discarded to make way for the new. Send out a request near Christmas, for donations of old portable ovenettes, heating pads, pans, microwaves, clocks, measuring spoons, measuring cyclinders, weighing machines, and the like. Any corner of a classroom can be turned into a temporary bakery for pupils to measure flour, milk, water and make their own pancakes or cookies.

Are you in need of simple balances? Use old plastic hangers. Attach recycled cups on either ends, and you can make as many sets of balance as you need for enthusiastic pupils to learn the concepts of more/less than and heavier/lighter than. What will you use to keep these bulky items neatly with little fuss? Nothing! Simply hang them onto cabinet doors around the room for easy access. They also act as a barrier to the more precious items in the cabinets that inquisitive minds and hands may choose to explore.

Are you almost cracking your head over how to teach the properties of circles to your fidgety pupils? Collect the covers of damaged circular plastic containers. These come in standard sizes, and have the centre of the circular covers marked by the mold they were made with. Use a sturdy needle to poke through these marked centers, a task easily accomplished as the covers are made of soft and thin plastic. By making the hole just wide enough for a sharp pencil to poke through, your pupils have wonderful and sturdy templates to draw and explore the properties of circles with.

Bottles come in all shapes and sizes, and often in sturdy plastics that can be cut easily. Use sturdy foam cutting wire to cut across the uniform cross sections of discarded bottles, and you have wonderful pieces to teach different shapes, tessellations, concentric circles and properties of figures.

Wait! Before you go to buy good and expensive plastic containers to store your new manipulatives, enlist the assistance of dress-making parents to help you turn discarded thick cloth waste into sturdy and attractive bags to store them instead. You can get parents who love embroidery to sew uniquely lettered labels onto the bags.

The list of ideas on how to make Mathematics manipulatives from recycled materials can run into tens of pages. It takes a teacher who is determined to spread the message of frugality, green living and love for Mathematics to concretise these ideas. Your school could save thousands of taxpayers’ money by using these simple ideas for making Mathematics manipulatives from recycled materials.