Featured Math Organization

Math Toolboxes

February 20, 2017

Do you use math toolboxes for your students? If so, you know how wonderful this resource is for students of all ages! I have used math toolboxes in each grade I have taught, from Kindergarten to 3rd grade. These are great to have in class, and you can even help parents and students create math toolboxes for home!

Here are some things I love about math toolboxes:


I love, love, love anything that helps to keep my classroom looking neat and organized! The small pieces can be kept in Ziplock bags and stored in cheap dollar store containers, then stacked neatly when not being used. You could have students keep them in their desks, but my students have so much stuff in their desks already, and we don’t use the toolboxes on a daily basis. Plus, storing them in a cabinet or cubby eliminates the chance of lost or damaged materials…not that anything ever disappears inside a student desk, right? ☺

Student Choice

I love that students can choose whatever manipulatives help them make sense of problems. This gives all students the freedom to solve problems in ways that work for them. One of my favorite things about letting children explore math tools is watching them use different tools in ways that I would have never considered! It is so fun watching them work out strategies and find new ways to use the various math manipulatives.

Home/School Connection

Your students can easily build a math toolbox to keep at home to help them when they are working on homework or extra practice. Simple household items like egg cartons, dried beans, toothpicks and paper plates are great for home toolboxes. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to provide 2 sets of things such as base ten blocks, play money, and measurement tools for school AND home- that’s wonderful! But you don’t need fancy or expensive manipulatives to make an effective toolbox!

So, what goes in a math toolbox?

It really depends on your grade level and your standards. I would always include items for place value practice no matter your grade level- this is a skill that students are always going to use. Here’s a list of some things that can go in your math toolbox:

  • Base ten blocks
  • Small cups (great for working on equal groups in younger grades)
  • Judy clock (or a paper plate clock with a bobby pin or paperclip for hands)
  • Dried beans
  • Popsicle sticks or toothpicks
  • Unifix cubes or any 1” cube/tile
  • Egg carton
  • Pattern blocks
  • Play money
  • Number line
  • String
  • Ruler
  • Grid paper- I have used small grid paper strips that are laminated to use with dry erase markers
  • Calculator- these are important to practice with if your students are allowed to use calculators on standardized tests

The key is to introduce each item gradually and let students have an opportunity to explore and practice with them before adding them to the toolbox. This is especially important if they’re creating a home toolbox so they will be able to effectively use materials without your supervision.

Do you have other materials you’ve added to your math toolboxes? I’m always looking for new resources- especially things that the students make themselves! Giving them ownership of their materials by letting them create their own tools helps keep them invested in the process and gives them a feeling of responsibility.

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