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Jo Boaler Suggests These Awesome Visual Math Activities


Jo Boaler Suggests These Awesome Visual Math Activities

Jo Boaler has started a math revolution that has likely already made its way into your classroom.

The Stanford Professor of Mathematics and author of Mathematical Mindsets is the co-founder of, an organization dedicated to inspiring, educating, and empowering math teachers with the latest research on making math education both practical and accessible.

The site shares an extensive collection of brain science findings that help you to better understand how your students learn.

See Also: If you're not familiar with her work, her Ted Talk How you can be good at math, and other surprising facts about learning is a must watch:


In the YouCubed study Visual Math Improves Math Performance, Boaler shares: 

In a ground breaking new study Joonkoo Park & Elizabeth Brannon (2013), found that the most powerful learning occurs when we use different areas of the brain. When students work with symbols, such as numbers, they are using a different area of the brain than when they work with visual and spatial information, such as an array of dots. The researchers found that mathematics learning and performance was optimized when the two areas of the brain were communicating.

Boaler goes on to say that "Mathematics is a subject that allows for precise thinking, but when that precise thinking is combined with creativity, openness, visualization, and flexibility, the mathematics comes alive."

When your students aren't thinking about math in a visual context, they are missing out on developing a deep understanding of the material.

So, how can you give your kids opportunities to think about math visually? Here are 5 resources suggested by Jo Boaler to get you started:

1.) Multiple Representations

Many students adopt a false idea that there is only one acceptable way to solve a math problem when, in fact, there's always several different ways to find a correct solution. By showing students multiple ways to represent concepts and solve problems, you make mathematics more accessible and equitable.

For more examples of multiple representations, you can download the free YouCubed Visual Mathematics Activities paper.

2.) How Close to 100?

This activity lets students explore the different ways that they can represent the value 100. This practice helps students build number sense, which is the foundation of understanding mathematics.

3.) Squares and Cubes

Kids love using hands-on manipulatives to explore math concepts. Thinking about mathematical models in terms of squares and cubes is a great way for students to develop a strong conceptual understanding of a variety of math topics.

You can learn more about using squares and cubes as visuals for deep understanding here

“I always look forward to getting my Mashup Math newsletter email every week. I love the free activities!” -Christina R., 5th Grade Math Teacher, Dallas, TX

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4.) Focus on Fingers

"Many teachers have been led to believe that finger use is useless and something to be abandoned as quickly as possible. ," says Jo Boaler in her article Why Kids Should Use Their Fingers in Math Class in The Atlantic.

Recent brain science suggests that preventing students from using their fingers when they count could actually hurt their mathematical development. 

You can support visual math learning by encouraging finger counting among students and enable them to strengthen their brain capacity in the process.

5.) Learn Even More

Looking to go further down the rabbit hole? You can learn more about the importance of visual mathematics for our brain with the comprehensive essay Seeing as Understanding by Jo Boaler. The essay shares insights, brain science research, and more activities for you to share with your kids.

Do you have any unique experiences or ideas for teaching visual mathematics to your kids? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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By Anthony Persico

Anthony is the content crafter and head educator for YouTube's MashUp Math and an advisor to Amazon Education's 'With Math I Can' Campaign. You can often find me happily developing animated math lessons to share on my YouTube channel . Or spending way too much time at the gym or playing on my phone.