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In math classrooms today, teachers are using
manipulatives to help students learn
mathematics. Manipulative materials are any concrete
objects that allow students to
explore an idea in an active, hands-on approach.
Manipulatives can be almost anything –
blocks, shapes, spinners or even paper that is cut or
The power of using manipulatives is that they let the
student connect mathematical ideas
and symbols to physical objects, thus promoting better
understanding. For example,
students in grade 5 must learn about decimal numbers.
Students make a common mistake
when comparing 0.7 and 0.56, thinking that 7 tenths is a
smaller number than 56
hundredths. This is because students think that a two-
digit number, such as 56
hundredths is larger than a one-digit number, 7 tenths.
That “rule” works for whole
numbers, but not decimals. If the students are asked to
build these numbers using a
manipulative such as base ten blocks, they can
immediately see that 7 tenths is larger than
56 hundredths. They connect the model to the concept
of the size of the numbers. With
many experiences building and representing using
manipulatives, students can deepen their
understanding of abstract math concepts.
What are manipulatives?
Manipulatives can also be tools to help students
solve problems. By using physical models to
represent their thinking, they can move and adapt
the materials as they explore possible
solutions to problems. In real life, many people
use models to help solve problems, such as
an architect who might construct a model of a
building or an engineer who might build a
prototype of a piece of equipment.