Are you a beginning teacher? What’s in your maths toolbox?

Very recently one of my children began a career as a primary teacher. Like most early career teachers, she has had to begin working as a casual relief teacher. Fortunately for her, she has a ready supply of resources and mathematics activities (thanks to Mum) for those days when she walks into a classroom and has to deliver a day full of engaging activities. However, many teachers who are starting out have to build their toolbox of resources from nothing. Where do you begin? How can you develop a bank of activities that suits lots of different levels and abilities, and engages children you may never have met before?

One of the first things I would recommend would be to invest in a small range of materials that allow you to implement some simple tasks that could then be expanded into interesting and worthwhile mathematical investigations. For example, if you purchase around ten sets of playing cards (go to a cheap two dollar store), you could learn a few basic games (Snap, Making 10, Playing with Place Value – see my book Engaging Maths: Exploring Number) that could then be differentiated according to the students you are teaching. A simple game of Making 10 could be used from Grade 1 all the way to Grade 6 by simply changing the rules.

Other materials that are a ‘must have’ for beginning teachers are dice and dominoes. There are many simple investigations that could lead from simple explorations with these materials. For example, use the dice to explore probability or play a game of Greedy Pig. Play a traditional game of dominoes before adding a twist to it, or simply ask students to sort the dominoes (students have to select their own criteria for sorting)– an interesting way to gain insight into students’ mathematical thinking and a great opportunity for using mathematical language. Once students have sorted the dominoes conduct an ‘art gallery tour’ and ask other students to see if they can work out how others have sorted out their dominoes. Photograph the sorting and display then on an Interactive Whiteboard for a whole class discussion and reflection…the list goes on!

Another ‘must have’ for beginning teachers is a bank of good quality resource books. Don’t fall into the trap of purchasing Black Line Masters or books full of worksheets to photocopy. You don’t want your students to be disengaged and you want to be called back for more work! Books such as my Engaging Maths series ( ), or any of Paul Swan’s books or resources ( are a great place to start. Explore some of the excellent free resources available online such as and, but do be aware that some resources produced outside of Australia will need to adapted for the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics.

In my early research on student engagement, I found that students would remember what they would recall as a ‘good’ mathematics lesson for a very long period of time. In fact, some of the students in my PhD study talked about a ‘good’ mathematics lesson two years after it had taken place. Although you might only be in a classroom for a very short time while you begin your career as a relief teacher, you can make an impact on the students in your care and the way the view mathematics by being prepared with your ‘toolbox’ of engaging and worthwhile activities.

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