Homemade Algebra Tiles

I met a teacher last year who said that he used his own felt algebra tiles instead of purchasing a class set of plastic algebra tiles. He used them just like the flannel and felt boards I used when I was in elementary school. He said that they were less expensive, students liked to use them, they were quieter in the classroom and they lasted longer. Since that time I wanted to try this out but it wasn’t until just this past week that I actually did it. I would like to thank my colleague, Pat Lore, for helping me complete this project 🙂

Since teachers began implementing the revised math Program of Studies textbooks have used various colours of algebra tiles. No matter the colours, you can easily make a set of felt tiles matching the colours in your textbook. Since I have been using these colours since the 1990s, these are the algebra tiles that I wanted to create. Each side of a tile is a different colour. White sides are negative and the coloured sides are positive.

Manufactured algebra tiles

I went to my nearest Michaels store and I purchased 3 sheets (8 1/2 by 11) of white felt, 2 sheets of green felt, 1 sheet of red felt, a large piece of black felt and a spray adhesive. I am sure there are several brands of spray adhesive but this is the one I chose. I found it to be easy to use and it really sticks!

Spray adhesive

As you can see, this photo was taken outside. Make sure to use this product in a place where you have good ventilation. The next step was to spray the adhesive on both pieces of felt. You could spray one side only but it was suggested, to make sure that the felt didn’t separate, that we spray both surfaces. Shake the can and keep it about 8 inches away from the item and then spray in an even fashion back and forth.

Spraying the adhesive

As soon as we finished spraying, we carefully lined up the two pieces of felt and pressed them together. We let these newly formed felt pieces dry overnight before we began cutting them into tiles.

Pressing felt togetherThe next thing we needed to do was determine the size of each of the tiles. One of my colleagues quilts so we used a quilting ruler for measuring and a rotary cutter for cutting the tiles.

Size of the algebra tiles

The tiles didn’t match perfectly to our tools so we rounded the measurements slightly. This is what we decided:

  • Large green & white square, x^22 1/2 inches square
  • Long green & white rectangle, x, 2 1/2 inches by 1/4 inch
  • Small red & white square, the unit, 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch

Then I tested the felt algebra tiles by placing them on the large piece of black felt that I had hanging on a bulletin board. They stuck and didn’t fall down!

From the material list mentioned above this is how many tiles we were able to make. You’ll notice too, that there is left-over material to make more red & white tiles. I think this would make at least two student sets for the green & white tiles with lots of extra material for the unit tiles.

I think these tiles would be great to use in class. They have a wonderful texture, are quiet and extremely inexpensive. If a school can’t afford the manufactured manipulatives it would be great alternative. Ideally I imagine pairs of students working with felt algebra tiles on small black felt boards. Students could easily raise their boards to show their work to each other or to the teacher. This would be similar to classrooms where students show and share their work on small whiteboards.

We could, perhaps, use something more ‘techie’ for algebra tiles but I feel it is important that students get their hands on manipulatives and really ‘feel’ the math they are doing. Felt algebra tiles would be kinesthetically pleasing and very different from other manipulatives commonly used in class.

What do you think of this idea? Would you use it? What about adapting this idea for other math manipulatives? I’d appreciate any ideas or suggestions.


About ccampbel14

I am a junior high math teacher at an Edmonton K-9 school. I am always looking for innovative and creative ways to teach mathematics so that I can reach every learner so they can be as successful as they possibly can be.
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