- Manipulatives help make abstract ideas concrete. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but while children learn to identify animals from picture books, they still probably don't have a sense about the animals' sizes, skin textures, or sounds. Even videos fall short. There's no substitute for firsthand experience. Along the same lines, manipulatives give students ways to construct physical models of abstract mathematical ideas.
- Manipulatives lift math off textbook pages. While we want children to become comfortable and proficient with the language of math--everything from the plus sign to the notations of algebra--words and symbols only represent ideas. Ideas exist in children's minds, and manipulatives help them construct an understanding of ideas that they can then connect to mathematical vocabulary and symbols.
- Manipulatives build students' confidence by giving them a way to test and confirm their reasoning. One goal of the provincial learning outcomes is to build students' confidence with mathematics. If students have physical evidence of how their thinking works, their understanding is more robust.
- Manipulatives are useful tools for solving problems. In searching for solutions, architects construct models of buildings, engineers build prototypes of equipment, and doctors use computers to predict the impact of medical procedures. In the same way, manipulative materials serve as concrete models for students to use to solve problems.
- Manipulatives make learning math interesting and enjoyable. Give students the choice of working on a page of problems or solving a problem with colorful and interestingly shaped blocks, and there's no contest. Manipulatives intrigue and motivate while helping students learn.
During the month of September we have been focusing on learning to use the math manipulatives appropriately. Concepts such as sharing, cleaning up, working together and being creative have been stressed. Math manipulatives are a useful and beneficial tool for students to learn concrete concepts. Math has many areas--patterns, measurement, geometry, statistics, and more--and they're often unfamiliar, abstract, and confusing to students. Children need help to develop the ability and confidence to find their way around in each of these areas, see how they connect, and know what to do should they forget a fact or procedure. Here are five reasons manipulative materials do just that:
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