How to Make a Math Vending Machine

Mar 10, 2023 | Articles, Educational Games and Activities, Events in Florence, Mass Appeal, Math Activities

How to Create a Math Vending Machine

By Masha Klymenko

Special thanks to the Northampton Arts Council for the funding to make this happen.

At The Community Classroom, we strive to make math fun for kids (and grown-ups!) of all ages. Last year on Pi Day, we launched The Little Free Math Library, where community members can borrow math board games to play at home. However, we are not stopping on our journey to make learning fun. We just finished our first Math and Art Vending Machine, which will also be launched on Pi Day

Everyone has encountered classic vending machines filled with gum or small toys, but what is a Math and Art Vending Machine? We found a used, regular vending machine as a base, but to make it more math-y, we decided to fill it with things that are fun AND educational. Our prizes include dice, art + math stickers, and various objects for counting collections. Curious about the math toys + activities? Click here to learn more about the prizes and some suggested activities for caregivers.

If you’re interested in making your own unique vending machine, we broke down the process we went through to help you give an old vending machine a new purpose.

Steps to Make a Math Vending Machine

Step 1: Locate a Vending Machine

First and foremost, we needed to secure a vending machine to make it fun and educational. New vending machines could be quite expensive, and sometimes it’s hard to justify such a purchase. However, it is possible to find listings for vending machines without keys, which are more affordable and great for recycling projects. After you get the vending machines, all the fun begins! We found ours on Facebook Marketplace. Heads up: You may need help in loading your vending machine. They are heavier than they look.

Step 2: Get Inside the (Soon-to-be) Math Vending Machine

Next, we had to remove the old locks to get inside the vending machine. You only need to have a drill and stock up on drill bits in case some break and don’t forget about protecting gear. Glasses are a must, don’t repeat our mistakes! Start by drilling through the top of the locks until it becomes loose, after that, you can easily open the vending machine. The process could be tricky, so here is the YouTube tutorial on how to do it. Sometimes the lid might get damaged, but it shouldn’t affect the vending machine too much. Full disclosure: there were about 5-7 hours of drilling for our five locks. Maybe you can find an easier way to do it? 

Step 3: Clean and Paint Your Math Vending Machine

After you clean out the leftover gumballs (caution: do not eat!) and toys (some of them you might be able to reuse), you can start the renovation process. The only thing you need for this step is some spray paint and your creativity. We painted our vending machine blue and gold, the colors of The Community Classroom. Thanks to Lead Tutor Christina Webster for her elbow grease!

Step 4: Filling the Math Vending Machine

Since the renovation takes a long time, you can use this chance to think about the content of your vending machine. There are many economical ways to find perfect content, and a little browsing online could be a great help. If you’re tight on ideas, you could also engage the audience of the vending machine by creating a survey and asking them what they would like to see for the prizes. You can find our list here. We decided to create and post a QR code so families can scan and find activities to engage in with the vending machine prizes.

When you decide what you will use for the prizes, you need to find capsules. Amazon has a variety of options and sizes (though we did try and find them locally first). For our machine, we used these smaller capsules, and we reused big containers, but you can find them here.

After the decoration process is over, it’s time to fill the machine and put the new locks in. Online you can find many different locks for vending machines, but before buying new ones, make sure that the length and thread diameter match the old locks.

Congratulations, your vending machine is now done! The only thing left to do is to move it to its destination (pool noodles from dollar tree will protect the hours of your hard work) and create an exciting campaign. We decided to use Pi Day to our advantage and reveal the Math Vending Machine along with some mathy carnival games and pies since they always attract people (and are fun for us all).


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