What are your favorite digital math tools and manipulatives you use in your classroom? Today I’d like to share a few of my favorite FREE digital tools and manipulatives in case they might be new to you. If I don’t share one of your favorites, please share it with us in the comments!
1. Math Learning Center Apps
My first recommendation is actually a suite of apps from The Math Learning Center. All of these apps are easy to use and cleanly designed. They can be accessed in a web browser or you can download them as an app on Apple devices. Just look at all of these options:
While these tools are great to get in students’ hands so they can explore a wide variety of math concepts, I don’t want you to overlook the ways they can save YOU planning time. I love to use these apps to quickly and easily create images I can snip and paste into warm ups and lessons.
Want to do a number talk with an image of ten frames? Head on over to the Number Frames app:
Want to make an image of a one-handed clock to focus on using the hour hand to estimate the time? Check out the Math Clock app:
If you’ve never used a one-handed clock to spark discussions about telling time, here is a collection of warm ups I created for our 2nd grade unit on telling time. I used a different app to snip images of the clock, but the Math Clock from The Math Learning Center will work great if you want to make some of your own.
Don’t limit yourself to the Geoboard app for creating Which One Doesn’t Belong? tasks. Here is a collection of WODB tasks I created by snipping images from the Number Frames app, Number Rack app, and Geoboard app.
Desmos is well known for their graphing calculator. Like the Math Learning Center apps, you can access Desmos in your web browser or download it as an app on your tablet and even on your phone!
In the elementary grades it’s a great tool for learning how to graph on the coordinate plane in 5th grade, but its usefulness extends below 5th grade! A really nifty feature in Desmos is the ability to turn off the y-axis, effectively turning Desmos into an interactive number line. This opens up lots of instructional possibilities.
In 3rd grade, for example, I created a video where students observe as the number line zooms out…and out…and out. Every time it reveals a new power of ten, the zooming stops so students can observe the magnitude of the different powers of ten visible on screen. After a few rounds of this a pattern emerges – the newest power of ten is always ten times farther from zero as the previous power of ten.
The video is part of an activity about magnitude and the relationships between numbers up to 100,000. You can check it out here.
I also used Desmos to develop a number sense routine I’ve dubbed Guess and Zoom where students guess the location of a point on the number line. As the number line zooms in, students have opportunities to revise their guess. The number line zooms in closer and closer before finally revealing the number the point is located at. Here are a couple videos I recorded of zooming in on the number line to show how it works:
While Desmos is well known for their graphing calculator, you should also check out their robust Geometry tool. You can create a wide variety of geometric figures, and there are even tools for quickly making parallel and perpendicular lines.
Inspired by the work of Annie Fetter from an #ElemMathChat she led several years ago, I wrote a lesson where students explore the attributes of four quadrilaterals I created using the Desmos Geometry tool. Is each quadrilateral a square? Are they always squares? You’ll have to explore for yourself! Check out the lesson here.
3. Math Playground
I’ll be up front that I’m not a fan of the ads littering Math Playground, but I can’t let that stop me from recommending two great resources on their site. The first is their Cuisenaire rods tool, which works in a pinch if you don’t have access to physical Cuisenaire rods.
And the other is their robust Thinking Blocks tool which invites students to build strip diagrams to represent and solve a wide variety of word problems. Teachers in my district have been using Thinking Blocks for years and it is a continual favorite.
4. Symmetry Artist
The Math Is Fun website has lots of digital interactions and tools built in to their web pages, but my favorite by far is Symmetry Artist. It comes with so many different options for exploring reflection and rotational symmetry. Here’s a sheet of symmetry challenges I created for our 4th grade students to use with Symmetry Artist.
5. Fraction Bar Applet
Sometimes the app you need doesn’t exist so you convince your husband to make one for you. This fraction bar applet lets you quickly model a variety of fractions with denominators up to 15. What I love about it is that it places every fraction you create on the number line at the bottom of the tool so you can quickly relate the bar model to the number line.
These are a few of my favorite digital tools. It’s great to live in the future! Our students have so many interactive digital tools for exploring and deepening their understanding of a wide variety of mathematics concepts. If you use any of these tools in your classroom, I hope they engage your students and spark rich conversations.
And again, if I left off your favorite free tool, please share in the comments so we can all learn about it!