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Mathematics Manipulatives for Elementary Students: Concrete and Virtual

written by: Afua Saafir • edited by: Amanda Grove • updated: 8/2/2012

Math manipulatives are vital to helping elementary students to develop a strong, concrete understanding of fundamental mathematics concepts. This article gives suggestions on math manipulatives to use and keep on hand in the classroom.

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    The Inherent Value of Math Manipulatives

    Geometric solid figures are useful mathematics manipulatives. Math manipulatives should be an essential component of just about any elementary school classroom. Using these multisensory tools with your students can help to promote an active learning environment. As you introduce your students to abstract ideas, they can then find creative ways to represent these math concepts concretely. Hands-on learning math activities can be especially helpful for kinesthetic learners. The effective implementation of useful mathematics manipulatives in a classroom can help to enhance the informal, intuitive approach to learning shared by many children.

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    Numbers and Operations

    The Numbers and Operations category of elementary math instruction includes such topics as addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, common fractions and decimals, comparing and ordering numbers and place value. Math manipulatives can be extremely helpful to elementary math students while they are working in these areas.

    Use math manipulatives like counters, counting beans, snap cubes and the good old-fashioned abacus to help students get a full grasp on the four basic math operations, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. The number line and the hundreds chart are two more must-have math manipulatives. Base ten block sets can bring place value to life for first through third graders, and can even help struggling students, in higher grades, increase their fundamental understanding of the subject matter. Fraction tiles and cubes, as well as fraction tower and pizza sets, can help students to gain a greater understanding of abstract math ideas. Math and fraction dice sets, spinners and game pieces can turn a dull math lesson into an exciting game, producing greater student mastery of the topic.

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    Algebra and Geometry

    Elementary students are often introduced to algebraic learning as early as kindergarten and first grade. Pattern and attribute blocks, along with mats and boards, are wonderful for sorting and patterning activities with these grade levels.

    When going through lessons that involve geometric figures, it is wise to allow your students to have access to math manipulatives as solid geometric shape blocks, geoboards (with rubber bands) and tangrams sets.

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    Measurement

    As students learn all about the concept of time including basics like the components of an analog clock, digital time and elapsed time, they can gain greater understanding through the effective use of math tools like wipe-on, wipe-off student clocks. A classroom set of mercury-free thermometers can help students become excited about learning about the weather as math and science come together. Centimeter cubes, rulers and student tape measures can make lessons on the standard and metric systems into true successes. A platform scale and math balance are also essential items to keep on hand in the elementary math classroom.

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    Data and Probability

    Today's world of modern technology offers many advantages to math students of all ages. Virtual math manipulatives are interactive, online versions of traditional math manipulatives. Many websites offer free access to a wide variety of virtual tools. Web-based tools that would be useful for lessons that deal with data and probability include virtual spinners and graphing tools. The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives is a popular site, offering students opportunities to create bar, line and circle graphs to represent and display data.

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    Bring math to life for your elementary students with these useful mathematics manipulatives and help to maximize their learning in your classroom today!

References

  • Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
  • http://teams.lacoe.edu Los Angeles County Office of Education: Manipulatives