3 Tips for Fffectively Using Math Manipulatives in Your Classroom

Math manipulatives are a vital component to any classroom. They are essential for promoting conceptual thinking which leads to a greater understanding of the standards. Over the years I have perfected how I implement math manipulatives into my lessons. Here are three tips for effectively using math manipulates in your classroom.

Storage and organization is key

If you don’t properly organize your manipulatives prior to your lesson, it’s going to waste time and become hectic with your students around. I have table baskets for each group and I stage the manipulatives we are going to use that day before the students arrive. I label the baskets with my group numbers, so I know what group I need to talk to if I’m missing materials. You want access to materials and clean-up to be quick so you’re getting the most instructional time possible.

Play is okay at the right moments

For some of your students this may be their first experience with a certain manipulative and they are curious. I always allow for exploration and “play” prior to using manipulatives in an academic setting. I use pattern blocks a lot during my fraction unit, and it never fails that my students want to create abstract or symmetrical images with the blocks. I schedule 5-10 minutes for this sort of “play” prior to our fraction unit. When I’m using manipulatives during a lesson I am very clear in my expectations. I use a lot of directives such as “place your manipulatives back into the bin,” when I need them to focus on me and not fidget with pattern blocks.

Questioning and consistency

Manipulatives should be part of your daily math block. Find resources that require the use of manipulatives. They will build deeper understanding of curriculum.
Rigorous questioning should parallel your use of manipulatives. For instance, when I introduce long division I give my students a bag of place value blocks. Let’s say I put enough blocks to represent the value of 167. I will then put a prompt on my activeboard board asking each group of students to equally place the blocks into 5 groups. I could just start with the problem of 167 ÷ 5 and show them the basic steps, but this is more exploratory for them. Soon I have some students coming up to me inquiring about the hundred flat and asking if they can trade the hundred flat for 10 rods of ten. Ahhhh, they have figured out a fundamental part of division (regrouping) without me telling them. You can’t beat this sort of authentic learning. Don’t be afraid to give them a line of questioning that they are essentially not ready for, but with assistance from manipulatives they are able to successfully piece together.

My collection of manipulatives is my go to resource for teaching conceptual math and a vital part of my daily math pedagogy. How do you use math manipulatives?

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