Classroom Spotlight: Playing with Playdough and Teaching with Toys

Written by Brittany Nestell, Math Teacher, Perry Middle School (Perry, Michigan)

While in the car the other day, I was listening to a wonderful interview on NPR (National Public Radio) about how educators need to adapt to the needs of the changing generation of students who learn through internet and group collaboration. The report was fascinating in its explanation of how our students’ brains are actually processing differently than those of previous generations because of how they use their time with technology. It made me excited to try some new technology for the upcoming school year! However, as the radio program was mostly geared toward college-age students, it left out a major part of teaching ideas: classroom management and keeping kids engaged.

While I am a huge fan of technology, the idea I wish to share with you is a more low-tech option that covers the student engagement part very well. As teachers, we are always looking for that adaptable activity that will work for any age, any subject and any amount of time, right? I think I have found it for you. You could integrate a technology component, too.

I use this activity about once a year with my 8th grade Algebra students. I have them work in teams of 3-4 students, but slightly smaller or larger groups will probably work, too. I figure that if I can use this with a tough topic, exponent laws, and an often unmotivated age group, it should work for just about anyone.

Classroom Spotlight: Playing with Playdough and Teaching with Toys 1

Here’s how this works! Students are given a topic and free reign over materials to create a visual to demonstrate their knowledge of a particular concept. What they use can be ANYTHING in your classroom (or better – things the kids have). Think creatively – playdough, playing cards, cubes, pipe cleaners, scissors, rulers, bingo chips, markers…even the kids themselves!

Classroom Spotlight: Playing with Playdough and Teaching with Toys 2

They arrange, mold, and organize materials to create the picture they want. This involves teamwork, discussion, planning and lots and hands on manipulation. Since kids are busy, and having fun, keeping kids on task is a breeze during this time. I typically give the kids 10-15 minutes to create and then have them walk around and visit other groups when they are done.

In the past, I have taken digital photos and shown slide shows the next day (or a week or so later as a review), however, you could have the kids take their own digital photos for similar projects.

Try it out and let me know how it went! Email me at nestellb (at) goperry (dot) org

Thank you for sharing your ideas with the abcteach community, Brittany! As a token of our thanks, we’ll be sending you a snazzy abcteach mug.

Jump in the Spotlight! Get well-deserved kudos for hard work in class or homeschool and share your creative ideas with the abcteach community. To enter, send your story (500 word max), and accompanying photos to [email protected].

Share this post