Question Detail

What research shows the importance of the use of manipulatives for all elementary (K-5 ) students when learning new concepts? What videos do you have showing the use of manipulatives at all levels?

May 17, 2017 6:50pm

Teachers allow students to use manipulatives at the beginning of the year and then "put them away" by semester. Why? Students need concrete manipulatives and examples whenever they learn new concepts, however the older a student is, the less they are using manipulatives ---they are just learning the standard algorithm.

  • Math
  • Pre K-5
  • Assessment / Planning
  • Student Collaboration


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    • May 29, 2017 5:52pm

      There is a lot of research out there on the use of manipulatives. The most compelling, to me, is the use of manipulatives as part of the concrete-representational-abstract (CRA) approach. Using this approach, students model the mathematical computation in a very concrete way first, with real objects (ie 5 actual apples) or manipulatives (ie 5 red unifix cubes). Gradually, students then use a representational approach where they draw pictures that match the hands-on tools they used initially.(They might actually do both - ie build it, then draw it) Next, although not explicit in the CRA progression, we'd like to see students visualize those manipulatives and pictures, and then show it abstractly using symbols and numbers. (they might actually do both - draw it, write it abstractly) CRA is one of the most important strategies specific to math instruction.

      One thing to consider, however, is the amount of student choice and direction in choosing the manipulatives to use. Common Core (math practice 4 and 5) would like them to have access to the tools they need and to use them strategically. At the end of the day, it's really just a tool that they can use to model their thinking and the thinking is the real end game. We want to be careful about not moving on too quickly to pictures or abstract as it takes multiple and varied experiences to grasp the concept. We also want to be cautious of holding on to manipulatives or pictures for too long also, as they can be cumbersome and seem like "extra" work when the student truly gets it at the numeric level. It's a balance really, and teachers and students should collaborate in the choice to continue to use them or wean off.

      (1) Here is a link with research references for this strategy.
      (2) 7 Musts for Using Manipulatives By Marilyn Burns article

      • May 30, 2017 4:25am

        Two more thoughts...
        (1) The Progression videos from Graham Fletcher could be used to show what and how manipulatives can be used:
        (2) I recently heard Cathy Fosnot speak about children modeling mathematics. She cautions against using manipulatives just for the sake of using something and feels that intentional use of certain ones lead to understanding. The essential models include math rack/rekenrek, open number line, array/area models and ratio tables.

        • Jun 1, 2017 9:23am

          Search for the work of Paul Riccomini in math. I know the IRIS website at the Peabody School of Ed. at Vanderbilt has research and applications related to his research some of which pertains to students working with manipulatives.