Creativity + Technology = Help for Math Teachers Here and Abroad

Professors use printers and cutters to create math teaching tools

Teachers from northeast Ohio and from thousands of miles away in sub-Saharan Africa have been learning to create inexpensive math teaching tools thanks to the efforts of some Kent State University professors. 

Professors Karl Kosko, Ph.D., Joanne Caniglia, Ph.D. and Rick Ferdig, Ph.D., all of whom teach in the School of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Studies within the College of Education, Health and Human Services, earlier this year were awarded a $15,000 grant by the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation for their project, "Visualizing Math via Manipulatives." 

The money will be used to pay for professional development for elementary school teachers from the Kent, Ravenna and Field Local school districts in Portage County and to help them purchase the technology to create the math tools at their schools. 

Tools for teaching math to young children can be created easily and inexpensively using Makerspace technology.

“Recent reports from the federal government show a decrease in math scores nationwide,” Kosko said. “Yet, even before this report, research suggests many students do not learn math beyond routine memorization. We know concrete manipulatives help students make meaning of written procedures, but these materials are expensive, and the cost is often paid out of a teacher's own pocket.” 

In addition to a lack of classroom materials, many teachers also don’t have access to professional development to learn how to create the materials themselves and use them effectively in their classrooms. Makerspace technology such as 3D printers and Cricut brand cutting machines can be used to create these materials at a fraction of the cost, Kosko said. 

Professor Joanne Caniglia uses a craft cutting machine to create math teaching tools.

Using a variety of software programs, the machines can turn sheets of inexpensive colorful crafting foam into shapes for teaching math to young children including such objects as fraction tiles. 

“Fraction tiles may cost $7 to $10 per student from a vendor but could be produced from a 3D printer for $1.50 per student,” said Kosko. “When considering that class sizes often include more than 20 students, this amounts to significant cost-savings.” 

Some of the training took place in June, with elementary school teachers coming to the Kent Campus to learn how to make small math teaching tools using Makerspace technology, including 3D printers and Cricut craft cutting machines, to create the tools. 

Kelly Homa, who teaches second grade at Davey Elementary School in Kent, said she was looking forward to working with the Cricut and the 3D printer and then using them in her school. 

Professor Joanne Caniglia and Professor Karl Kosko show Kent area public school teachers how to use a craft cutting machine to create math teaching tools.

The grant also will help to pay to put the machines in the schools. 

Lauren Harris, a first-grade teacher from Brimfield Elementary, said she has used a Cricut for personal crafting but was excited to see how it could be used in the classroom and was looking forward to having one at her school. 

The goal, Caniglia said, is to make math interesting for young children, and having colorful tools that students can have in their hands to show fractions and other math concepts, can help to pique their interest.  

Professor Joanne Caniglia shows students at the University of Rwanda how to use a craft cutting machine to create math teaching tools.

Caniglia, who spent time in Africa in July, helped to train future teachers at the University of Rwanda in Kigali, and the University of Kisubi in Kisubi, Uganda, using the Cricut machines. She was able to have a Cricut cutter delivered to Africa and left it at the University of Rwanda for use by professors and students who are math teachers in training. 

Training teachers in the makerspace technology is an important component of the grant, Kosko said. 

Professor Joanne Caniglia teachers Kent area public school teachers how to use a craft cutting machine to create math teaching tools.

Wendy Hackim, a fourth-grade teacher at Brimfield Elementary, said she was just learning technology.  

“This is all new to me. I am very interested,” Hackim said. “It’s definitely more cost-efficient [for making math teaching tools]." 

Hackim said an added benefit to using the technology is showing students the careers in tech that are available to them in the future by exposing them to instruments such as the 3D printer. 

“It shows them future jobs they can get into, and how they have uses on a bigger scale,” she said. “It’s great for kids to start learning about that.” 

A makerspace repository for the math manipulatives has been set up for the teachers to use and Kosko said the site is available to anyone interested in using either 3D printers or Cricut cutters to produce or use these math materials, Kosko said. 

The Martha Holden Jennings Foundation, over the past 60 years, has awarded more than $150 million in grants to Ohio’s public pre-K-12 school programs for a variety of projects and initiatives to foster deep learning and excellence in teaching. 

POSTED: Monday, August 7, 2023 12:49 PM
Updated: Monday, August 7, 2023 02:41 PM
Lisa Abraham