What are they?
A math manipulative is an object that is used in the teaching of mathematics that allows students to perceive the idea or concept they are learning through touching and moving the object. These manipulatives can range from anything like dice or money to pattern blocks, two-color counters, and even playing cards or dominoes.
What age groups?
All ages can benefit from the use of manipulatives while learning math. Math manipulatives are most commonly used in the early elementary ages or younger. Once students become more capable of abstracting concepts (older elementary, middle, and high school), teachers seem to have students spend more time doing math with paper and pencil, and less with hands on methods.
What are the benefits?
The use of manipulatives in the learning of mathematics allows students to represent math in multiple ways. More senses become engaged, including visual and tactile, which keeps a student more attentive. They are able to “see” math, which reinforces the conceptual understanding. This lays the groundwork for the mechanics that they will use later and allows the rules to be more meaningful and make sense, which in turn, will be less for them to “memorize”. Seeing math allows students to expand on ideas and uses of math in the world around them.
Why aren’t teachers using them?
Three reasons that math manipulatives are not used as often as they could, is time, money, and lack of knowledge. Developing the concept with a manipulative may require more time and so often, our teachers are burdened with getting through the material. While many math manipulatives on the market can be costly, not all manipulatives are expensive, but having enough for a class set could get pricey. Each math manipulative can be used to teach a variety of concepts. Often teachers may not know how to teach various concepts with these tools, and so they just do not get used. There are many companies out there that do trainings with their manipulative for teachers to learn.
This blog has an ultimate list of math manipulatives that can get you started!