Math Machine – a craft for elementary age kids

I was helping my daughter make one of these for her kindergarten teacher, and my husband suggested I do a post on it. My boys have made these for teachers and friend gifts before also. I had made one in elementary school myself and remembered enjoying it, so it just goes to show I do remember something I learned in school. (The basic machine is just the purple center unit–my daughter waxed creative and added the blue units on the sides)

Even with the electronic gadgets kids play with all the time now, they still seem to enjoy seeing how this simple machine works. Try it to help your child keep up their math skills over the summer, or make cards to learn vocabulary in a foreign language, etc. Be careful about making too many cards, though. It can be overwhelming to a child. If you do make too many, put some away for the future.

Purple math machine with card coming out with the answer 4


cardboard 1/2 gallon juice/milk carton, washed out and dry
empty cereal box (or other chipboard)
packing tape
pointed scissors, an art knife would be helpful as well
a ruler if you are a measurer
extras: paints, stickers, etc. to decorate, maybe a milk cap with a brad for a dial

1. Cut two 3/4″ slots in carton approximately 1 inch from the top and 1 inch from the bottom.

2. Cut two rectangles from the cereal box slightly narrower than the juice carton (mine is 3 3/4″) and approximate lengths 10 1/2″ and 7 1/2″

(If you want a milk lid knob on the front that turns, you need to attach it with a brad before the next step.)

3. Tape the longer rectangle to the top of the top slot and the bottom of the bottom slot.

4. Tape the shorter rectangle to the bottom of the top slot and the top of the bottom slot. You are creating a path for the card to follow so it will turn over before falling out of the bottom slot.

5. Test with a card about 3 1/4″ x 2 1/2″.

If the space between the two rectangles turns out too narrow or too wide, the card will not turn over and slide out easily. This will also be a problem if the card size is too big. The card should slide out of the machine and on to the counter easily.

6. Decorate as desired. You may want to make a card holder and tape it to the side of the carton. The bottom 2″ of a mac & cheese box works well. You can use the top of the box too and have two holders, one for the cards to be put in, one for the cards that have come out.

The craft paint covered the waxy carton and the packing tape better than I expected, though the stickers didn’t all stick to the paint as well I would have thought. She’s using leftover fabric paint in the picture below to add some details and label the slots “IN” and “OUT”. Paint pens are great for this, if you have them.

7. Make cards. You can make your own, or print off ours. Here is a file my husband made for me of cards with easy math problems. He put a frame around the problem side of the card so the child can easily recognize which side to read and insert up. You can also use our Math Machine Card Generator program to create cards for more advanced math problems.

Generator Info:

When you download the Math Machine Card Generator, you will probably get a message asking if you want to open it or save it. Save it somewhere on your computer and then unzip it. You can then open it in Excel (enable macros!) and follow the instructions in the first worksheet (named “Instructions”). The card setup and final output are in the 2nd and 3rd worksheets, respectively.

This is free, but please give credit where it is due. Tell people where you got it from. It is written in Microsoft Excel with macros so you will need to have Excel to use it and make sure you enable macros when you open it. We know it works on Windows 2000, XP, Vista and Windows 7 but we haven’t tried it on a Mac. But it should work there, too, with the exception of Excel 2008 which does not support macros. We also have only tried this on Excel 2003 and Excel 2000. It is also in a zipped format. Some versions of Windows include the options to extract files from zipped folders but if you don’t see that, you may have to find a zip file extraction program. The Math Machine Card Generator program doesn’t come with any guaranties or warranties. And even though we have scanned it for viruses, we are not liable for any real or perceived issues resulting from you downloading or using this program. If you enjoy using this Math Machine Card Generator program or if you find bugs in it, please leave a comment on this post.

May your kids enjoy learning all year ’round! Let me know if you have any other great ideas or uses for the Math Machine.

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About Sunny

My name is Sunny, and my husband and I have five "children" ages 19 to 4. I love learning. I have a M.F.A. in Humanities and dream about going back to school some day. I run around doing "mom" stuff, try to put a nutritious dinner on the table for whomever shows up, and I thrive on creative projects when possible. Mostly I strive to just keep up with the mountains and mole hills of day to day life.
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