Math Mats: A Great Scaffold for Problem Solving in Guided Math Groups Part I

Posted on January 11, 2011. Filed under: Elementary math, Graphic Organizers, Manipulatives, Math is a Language, Mathematical Proficiency | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Math mats are great ways to get students to problem solve.  They provide a context, which research states is extremely important (Kulm,1984; Bickmore-Band, 1993). This context is a scaffold that helps students understand what they are doing.  They are a type of  graphical organizer that allows students to see and act out the problems they are trying to solve.

Math mats also help to relieve some of the anxiety that  word problems cause among students.  Kouba, Brown, Carpenter, Lindquist, Silver & Swafford (1988) found that word problems cause a great deal of anxiety, which I would say hinders students’ problem solving abilities, often even before they get started.  Math mats can help to ease some of that anxiety by tapping into the familiar.

You can use math mats to introduce, demonstrate, reinforce, reteach and differentiate story problem types.    They also provide students a springboard for telling their own stories.

To do any of this though, you have to start with a great math mat.  Here are a few resources:

Sparklebox has great playdoh storytelling mats for all operations.

(I like the snowman mat at the bottom of the page)

***Be Sure to Search “Problem Solving” in this blog for other relevant posts.


Bickmore-Brand(1993). Implications for research in language arts for mathematical teaching. In J. Bickmore-Brand (Ed.) Language in Mathematics. Portsmouth, N.H. Heinemann.

Kouba,V.,Brown,C.,Carpenter,T.,Lindquist, M. Silver, E.,& Swafford  J.  (1988). Results of the Fourth NAEP assessment of mathematics: number, operations and word problems. Arithmetic Teacher, 34 14-19.

Kulm,G. (1984).  The classification of problem-solving research variables.  In G.A. Goldin & C.E. McClintock (Eds). Task Variables in mathematical Problem Solving. Philadelphia: The Franklin Institute Press.

Click to access RevisedMathProblem-SolvingStoryMatsresearch.pdf

Happy Mathing,

Dr. Nicki

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3 Responses to “Math Mats: A Great Scaffold for Problem Solving in Guided Math Groups Part I”

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I have never used a math mat, so this series of posts will be enlightening. When I looked at the websites, I was wondering if the students make story problems from the type of mat, or do they see/hear the story problem first – then solve it using the mat?

Math mats are certainly something I would have found useful as a child. Comparing them to graphic organizers is exactly how I see them. It’s as if you are making a list; only with this list you don’t have the chance to confuse yourself because the format has already been made for you.

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