Mathematics activities using a balance scale

Written by jessica westover
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Mathematics activities using a balance scale
Balance scales can be used to illustrate basic math concepts. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

A basic balance scale can be incorporated into classroom math activities to illustrate math concepts. Scales can be used with younger children to introduce weight and math concepts such as more than, less than or equal to. Balance scale activities can be used to help older students understand addition, subtraction and basic algebraic equations. Using the scale's sides to represent parts of math equations can help children visualise and understand mathematics.

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Addition and Subtraction

Balance scales can be used in a simple math activity to teach young students the basics of addition and subtraction. Set up the balance scale in front of the class and tape an index card containing an equals sign in the centre of the scale. Write basic addition and subtraction problems on the board and allow the students to take turns solving each problem by using the scale. Provide equal sized blocks for the children to use with the scale. For a problem such as 4 + 2 =, invite the child to place four blocks on one side of the scale and add two more to the pile. The child will then place the number of blocks needed to balance the scale on the other side and count them. This will answer the problem.

Exploring Weight

This math activity is appropriate for preschool or kindergarten students who are just beginning to learn basic math concepts. Set up a balance scale in the classroom. Provide various items such as markers, blocks, crayons, paints and pencils for the children to weigh. All the children to take turns putting items on the scales sides. Discuss the results of their item combinations with the students by using the terms heavier, lighter and same.

Algebra Basics

Use balance scales to bring a hands-on touch to algebra. Through this math activity, children can practice writing and solving simple algebraic equations. Hang an equals sign on the centre of the balance scale. Place a combination of blocks on the left hand side of the scale. One of these should vary in size from the others and be labelled with a numeric value. The other blocks should be left plain. Place one block on the right side of the scale that is equal in weight to the left side and label it with a number. For example, place four unlabeled square blocks and one round block labelled with a number 4. Place a block with the number 16 on the right side. Ask the children to write and solve the equation. They should write 3b + 4 = 16. Walk them through to the problem to find the solution b = 4.

Estimation

Use balance scales to teach the mathematic concept of estimation in the classroom. Draw an equals sign, more than symbol and less than symbol on three cards. Hold up two objects in front of the students and ask them to estimate the outcome of weighing them. Ask the students to estimate which object weighs more, less or is equal in weight. Ask the students to write their guesses down in the form of a simple equation. For example, if they think that a paper clip weighs less than a pencil then they should write paper clip < pencil. Weigh the combinations of items and discuss the results with the children.

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