What Supplies Do Teachers Need to Teach Mathematics?
By Stacey Walker
In order for teachers to provide instruction in mathematics, more is needed in our 21st century world than a protractor, calculator, pencil, and paper. Teachers are looking for ways in which students can explore creativity and get excited about math, and new tools are needed for this type of instruction. North Carolina curricula have mandated for the incorporation of manipulatives in the teaching of math, but not all teachers have the resources needed for their own classrooms. Math teachers utilizing DonorsChoose.org to raise funds for these resources have also advocated for these tools as a means of providing hands-on, small-group learning opportunities. In addition to helping students visualize abstract concepts, these learning tools can also be a means of helping students who are socially disadvantaged to build interactions with other students.
In Forsyth County, North Carolina, 60% of fully-funded projects for mathematics supplies for grades PreK-12 are for manipulatives and materials for differentiated instruction or sensory learning. In PreK-5 fully-funded mathematics supply projects, there are crossovers with art, literacy and science in the use of manipulatives and differentiated instruction. For example, several teachers asked for easels for their mathematics classes to help associate math with more creative activities that many students find engaging (e.g., art).
Because tools for mathematics are recommended for learners in concrete, representational, and abstract stages, I was interested to examine a project requested by a secondary mathematics teacher, who represented an underrepresented group on DonorsChoose.org in Forsyth County. Mrs. M represents two out of the seven fully-funded supply projects for grades 9-12, and both of her projects were parts 1 and 2 of a request for manipulatives for her students. Both projects were under $500 and were successfully funded by one donor for each project. Mrs. M’s high school is classified as highest poverty on the site, and she also works with special needs students in her classes. In one paragraph, Mrs. M identifies the need in her class: she is teaching students with mental disabilities about daily tasks that require mathematics. Then she explicitly identifies that while high school math is more abstract, these manipulatives will aid in the visualization of abstract concepts for her students. In the second project, Mrs. M outlined the same need for her students but explained new concepts that these manipulatives would help teach as well as how she would incorporate these tools throughout the remainder of her course.
Since the early 1900s, the National Council of Teaching Mathematics has advocated the use of manipulatives for teaching all levels of mathematics in schools. Differentiating mathematics instruction may be a means of helping reach more students that may be more averse to the subject-matter. Relating mathematics to subjects they may find more enjoyable may reach more students and help students relate to mathematics more easily.
Mrs. M clearly identified ways in which her students would be using manipulatives to learn mathematical concepts and why they are important tools at the high school level. Identifying the need and explaining how these tools would enhance her classroom pedagogy made it persuasive for someone who may not be well-versed in the importance of manipulatives and differentiation of instruction in the secondary mathematics classroom.
Both of Mrs. M’s projects were funded by one donor, and actually the same donor: The Winston-Salem Chamber Grants for Great Ideas. In many instances, DonorsChoose.org may offer teachers a time-saving way to write grants. Mrs. M went through the same grant writing process, but in a new forum. The duration of time to receive funding for both projects was six months but instead of submitting a written proposal and having to modify it for each individual organization, Mrs. M was able to open up her request to an aggregate of potential donors and effectively fund two projects for her students, which allowed her to provide students with a deeper educational experience that they would have had otherwise.
More information and research on manipulatives in mathematics.