In many school settings, teachers and learning guides make manipulatives available to students. Manipulatives are physical objects used as tools for hands-on learning. Manipulatives are useful aids to learning, especially when it comes to mathematics. Read on for five reasons to use manipulatives to help students grasp math concepts.

  1. Most often used at the elementary level, manipulatives can provide a bridge between concrete and abstract ideas. They can help students visualize a concept and associate it with the academic task at hand (e.g., computation). From counters and base-10 blocks to money and geoboards, they are excellent tools for introducing, practicing, and even remediating different math concepts so students can connect their concrete knowledge and experience to abstract ideas. They provide students with additional representations of abstract ideas to give them a better sense of the meaning and usefulness of those ideas, making for a more robust understanding.
  2. Another great reason to use manipulatives is to help students develop number sense and mathematical communication skills. Manipulatives help students to become comfortable and proficient with the vocabulary and symbols that make up the language of math. Being able to verbalize mathematical thinking is key to progressing in the subject.
  3. Manipulatives are also important for supporting academic differentiation. That is, they are helpful for tailoring academic instruction to meet the individual needs of every specific student. They help students focus so they can retain the ideas. When manipulatives are used in combination with other materials and teaching methods, they help all learners—visual, auditory, and kinesthetic—at every level, so they can internalize math concepts better.
  4. When it comes to helping students take ownership of their learning, manipulatives offer a way to do so. They intrigue and engage students, which motivates them throughout the learning process. Manipulatives make learning math more interesting and enjoyable to most students. Further, they help students to gain confidence in their math abilities as they learn by encouraging failure, which teaches the importance of perseverance, hard work, and critical thinking.
  5. Using manipulatives is especially helpful with regard to learning mathematical concepts more efficiently and effectively. By approaching math in a non-threatening, hands-on way with manipulatives, students are better able to understand abstract ideas, apply concepts in real-world situations, and think divergently to find a wide range of possible solutions to problems. Moreover, using manipulatives encourages students to develop and use problem-solving methods of their own, so they don’t have to rely on someone else to do so.

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Written by Erika Mehlhaff