Maths Mat History and Activities

We learn a lot from each other. When I was leading an EMIC (Exploring Mathematics In Classrooms) course decades ago, This Works For Me really worked for me.

One of the participants demonstrated how she used a polythene sheet about 2mx2m, marked in squares, to do sorting and graphing exercises with her infants. For example, jumpers which were taken off after running around at recess could be sorted into colours. A column was labelled with a colour card and one jumper was neatly folded into each cell. This was an instant graph and encouraged counting and difference activities.


Matt Skoss exploring the mat with Andy Martin and family at BCME 6, 2005, England. See slide show reference below.

In my own training as an EMIC leader I had become hooked on kinaesthetic learning through involving the whole body in mathematics activity.

Sometimes the juxtaposition of two ideas results in a brainwave (rather than a headache) and that's what developed from these two experiences. Thought - what about making a mat with cells large enough for the children (not neatly folded) to sit in the cells and become part of the graph?

Green Line

The Maths

I introduced teachers to these initial ideas through an article and workshop at the 1993 December Conference of the MAV.
Williams, D. [1993], Maths On A Plastic Mat, Mathematics: Of Prime Importance edited by Mousley, J. & Rice, M., Mathematical Association of Victoria, Melbourne
The article begins:

Have you ever considered just how much mathematics involves the use of grids?

  • data is represented by assigning value to cells of a grid.
  • graphs are drawn using the co-ordinates which label the intersections of a grid.
  • the concept of multiplication (and its inverse) can be modelled as a rectangular array which can be represented on a grid.
  • the place value aspect of number can be modelled as an abacus and this can be represented on a grid with 9 (or 10) rows in each column. Once numbers are represented by this model, operations on those numbers can also be represented.
  • geometric shapes can be represented on a geoboard which is a grid where the line intersections are the focus.
  • grids provide the playing board for many games and puzzles. Chess is obvious and the grains of rice on the chess board problem (1 on the first cell, 2 on the second, 4 on the third, ...) is well known.
  • a spreadsheet/database depends on a grid for its existence.
  • we ask children to learn multiplication tables which are arranged as a grid.
  • the area of a rectangle is measured by a grid of squares.

The Mat

The article goes on to describe the mat. The dimensions shown here make a mat large enough to fit comfortably into a school's multi-purpose room.

Making A Maths Mat

Shade cloth (Sarlon Polyshade) is extremely durable and is purchased in 180cm widths. For a relatively small cost two widths 7.2m long can be bought and taped together with gaffer tape. Then, two hours work with a ruler, a spirit based permanent marker, a long plank and a colleague (knee pads help too!) produces one of the most useful teaching aids a school can possess.

The Matt

Matt Skoss, at the time head of mathematics at Alice Springs High School, read my 1993 article and immediately began exploring possibilities. Early on he presented with his mat at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics meeting in San Diego in 1996 and at an OECD conference in Canberra in 1997. He has continued to run Maths on the Mat with Matt workshops well into the following century and, as a mathematics education consultant, has used it time and again in schools.

The Dates

1993
Maths on a Plastic Mat, the original article.

1995
Matt's Math Mat Matters, an article in The Classroom Connection recognising some of the work Matt and his team had been developing based on the original article. Information above is drawn from the first two pages of this article.

2004
Matt began making mats for other teachers.

2005
Matt presented his workshop at BCME 6 in the UK and later enjoyed replaying the experience for Andy Martin and his family. Photos from that extra session are recorded here as a slide show. They reveal many possibilities for learning mathematics through whole body involvement.
Andy bought Matt's kit on the spot. A win for his school, and a win for Matt who didn't have to freight it back to Australia.

2006 / 2007
Matt presented his workshop again at the December Conference of the MAV. Two Swedish teachers, Per Berggren and Maria Lindroth were present and were so impressed they made their own mat when they returned to Sweden.
This article, Maths on a Mat (Swedish style), Matte på en Matta reports on a mat activities workshop they led in Stockholm.

2021
Matt was captured by The Coonamble Times presenting a mat workshop in regional NSW as a part of a project of the Mathematical Association of NSW (MANSW) to support rural, regional and remote teachers to build local, self-driving, professional development networks.
  • Click the image to reveal the article.
  • Click the article to toggle zoom in / zoom out.

Article used with permission of
The Coonamble Times:
https://www.coonambletimes.com.au/

2023
For the December Conference of the Mathematical Association of Victoria Matt added a sorting network with a musical outcome. Click the image to play a short video from the conference.

Doug. Williams, 2010
(extended 2012, 2021, 2023)

More from Mathematics Centre