Do you make all the decisions in your classroom?

Give some choice back to your students with a Messy Maths Box.

I first came across the idea of a messy maths box when doing the facilitator training for First Steps in Mathematics Measurement and have found its capacity to inform teachers and aide students invaluable – not just in measurement but across all strands.

Messy MathsSo what is a Messy Maths box?

A workshop participant once described a messy maths box as

“containing all those things you find in the back of your desk draw at the end of the school year”.

And whilst it will at first glance look like that, its contents are deliberately chosen to identify student misconceptions.

Using the Messy Maths Box as a diagnostic tool

Often as teachers we make decisions for students;

we give them the number of items we want them to share,

we show them where to start when counting,

we give them the object to measure a line.

….we miss the opportunity to gain invaluable information about our students.

Letting the student choose

The messy maths box gives the student the opportunity to choose the quantity and type of concrete material they would use to solve a problem – and consequently provides us with a wealth of knowledge about the student’s understanding.

For example in a measurement activity

Does the student select an object suitable for the attribute that they are measuring?

Is the unit that they select consistent?

Do they avoid gaps and overlays?

By ensuring that there are items in the messy maths box that have the attributes of length, capacity, area and weight – along with a few “broken” items or different sizes – you will learn far more about your students than if you choose the concrete materials for them.

It will also provide students with the opportunity to justify and reason as they explain why they chose that object.

Throw in some double sided counters, buttons and foam shapes and you can extend the use of the messy maths box beyond Measurement and use it for Number and Space concepts.

The applications are as diverse as the things that you can put in the box. 

Leave a Comment