Learn how to make math visual to enhance and deepen student understanding (hint: it’s about more than drawing pictures!) Plus, learn the science behind why this matters and ways to make the math topics you teach and explore more visual for your students.
Why Does Math Need to Be Visual?
Recent brain research has been able to show us what activity goes on in the brain when we solve a math problem. The results are amazing! 5 different processors “light up” with activity and talk to each other when we work on math and play with numbers.
Of those 5, 2 are visual processors.
That means we need to provide visuals to aid our brain in making sense of the problem, connecting it to other parts of the brain and to move it from our short term memory to our long term memory!
So even for those kids (and adults) who don’t consider themselves to be “visual learners,” we now know that’s just not true. Everyone needs visual tools to understand math deeply. Some might just have stronger visual processors than others.
Those who think they’re not “visual learners” need visual models and tools even more to strengthen those weaker parts of the brain.
What Does it Mean to Make Math Visual?
So making math visual is about so much more than drawing a picture to solve a word problem. Making math visual means giving our brains something to “hold on to” as we make sense of new concepts, think through word problems, visualize fractions and all the other math we want our kids to learn.
Making math visual means our brain is able to form connections between visual representations and more abstract representations or computations.
This might mean drawing a picture for a word problem.
It might mean using hands on manipulatives to represent the situation and help kids to “see” it.
But more often than not, it simple means using a visual math tool to represent the situation or a diagram to show our brains the information in a different format.
Visual or Hands On Math Representations Might Include:
- Base ten blocks
- Number bonds
- Number lines & open number lines
- Tables, charts or graphs
- Hundreds charts
- Area models or grids
- Bar models
- Arrays of objects
- Fraction bars
Or any other visual your kids come up with to show their thinking about a particular math problem.
Ideas for Making Math Instruction Visual & Hands On:
One of the easiest way to encourage your kids to visualize the math they’re learning and exploring is to use a graphic organizer. Although you could probably find various graphic organizers around the web, this can be as easy as folding a piece of paper into fourths.
Then give your students a math problem (computation or word problem) and ask them to solve it 4 different ways.
You might require things like solve it with the algorithm, solve it using place value, solve it on a number line, solve it with a number bond, solve it by drawing a picture, etc.
One especially helpful tip for getting kids to think deeply and visualize a problem is to make one of the boxes “Write a story problem to match the problem,” when you give them a computation problem.
For example, if the given problem is 24 – 8, a student might solve by drawing a picture, using an open number line, with the regrouping algorithm and finally by writing a story problem such as, “I have 24 crayons. 8 are broken. How many are not broken?”
This allows them to think about, explore and visualize subtraction in a variety of ways, and sometimes discover meaningful strategies for solving that they had not been familiar with (or comfortable using) previously.
You might also like these posts with ideas for hands on math instruction:
Find More Visual Math Games & Hands On Resources for Your Classroom:
If you’re looking for quick and easy and done for you visual or hands on math activities, games and math tasks, check out the ever-growing list of resources below.
Simply click on the different graphics to learn more about each activity and grab the FREE download that you can use right away!
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