The Math Factory: Visualization For Success In Math

Enrichment Therapies

October 2, 2017

By Elizabeth Drewelow

Recently, my students and I came across a math term that I remember dreading in school: factor.  My students’ expressions of confusion and frustration mirrored the feelings I recall having in my 4th-grade math class.  Math vocabulary made me want to put my head down and give up.  I couldn’t make a mental image for the word factor because I didn’t know what it represented. Without a visual example in my mind, the word factor, along with a variety of other math terms, were all jumbled together in my brain.  As my students attempted the first few problems in our lesson, I could tell that they were in the same boat.

It was time for me to take a step back and think about how to make these terms memorable for the students.  I started to brainstorm for ways to turn the word into a vivid image in each of their minds.  What does the word factor sound like?  Factory!  What do factories do?  They put parts together to make a product.  What are factors?  They are parts of a greater number! If I were to take the product at my factory apart, I would find its individual parts.  If I were to divide my number into smaller parts, I would find its factors.  I drew this example to create a visual representation for the students:

Upon pulling apart this term and creating imagery to bring it to life, it was as if a light bulb went off for the students.  One of the students perked up.  He mentioned that he had seen a show about how factories put together parts to make different things.  He also understood that if we took apart a product, we would have individual parts.  Thus, he was able to relate this personal experience with the show to our math lesson and grow deeper in the understanding of the topic of focus.

In helping students to understand math concepts, it is important to make sure that they are visualizing the meanings of related vocabulary terms.  Without this key component in their learning experience, they could be missing out on vital information that supports their overall understanding. Creating images to represent terms in math is crucial to building students’ confidence in their work and helping them apply their knowledge.

When working with your child, you may find that certain images help your child more than others.  For example, if your child likes gummy bears and is also working on addition, have them visualize putting 3 red gummy bears in their hand and then adding 2 yellow gummy bears.  This is an image that will be easy for him or her to create and will support the end goal of being able to add 3 + 2.

Another possible strategy you can use to help your child visualize math terms is in creating vocabulary cards with both word and picture definitions.  Trying to define and understand the concept of division can be somewhat fuzzy for a learner.  To support him or her in grasping this concept, create a vocabulary card that features the term and a picture on the front, and a definition and example on the back.  Below is an example of a math vocabulary card:

The goal for teachers and parents is to help children generalize their knowledge.  So, yet another way to help them understand math concepts is to provide opportunities for them to make visual and sensory connections between what they are learning and daily life. For example, if your child is learning about fractions, ask him or her to measure out the ingredients when baking cookies.  If he or she is learning about money concepts, allow him or her to count out the dollars and change when making a small purchase at the store. 

There are so many ways to help students make math come to life.  Consider your child’s interests, learning style, and strengths when creating visual representations of math concepts.  Whether it’s factories or gummy bears, aiding your child in creating mental imagery to visualize math terms and concepts is key to building concrete understanding.

Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center has locations in the Iowa City, IA area and Des Moines, IA area. We provide individual speech-language therapy and tutoring as well as offering small group academic programs.  At Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center our passion is to help kids achieve effective communication skills and gain academic success.  Contact us for more information on how we can help your child succeed.

740 Community Drive, Unit A

North Liberty, IA 52317


5530 West Pkwy, Suite 300

Johnston, IA 50131


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