From Marilyn Burns, a teacher and the nation's leading math innovator. Here she answers the pressing question: What are math manipulatives and why is my child using them in school?
For more from Marilyn Burns, please choose one of the following:
- 7 Musts for Using Manipulatives
- A Letter to Parents: How to Educate them on the Use of Manipulatives
- Answers to Your Questions about Manipulatives
- How I Introduced the Geoboard in My Classroom
- Pattern Block Activities (Plus Homework Assignments)
- The Solution to Marilyn Burns' Pattern Block Puzzler
- Your Turn
in Today's Classroom
Have you ever visited a new city and felt confused about finding your bearings--even if you had a map and directions? After a few days you probablygot a feel for the area, and even if you became lost from time to time, youcould count on familiar landmarks to help you on your way. And with enoughexploring, most likely you ventured with more confidence wherever you needed togo.
We can think of the value of firsthand experiences for learning mathematics in asimilar way. Math has many areas--patterns, measurement, geometry, statistics,probability, and more--and they're often unfamiliar, abstract, and confusing tostudents. We need to help children develop the ability and confidence to findtheir way around in each of these areas, see how they connect, and know what todo should they forget a fact or procedure. Here are five reasons manipulativematerials do just that:
help make abstract ideas concrete. Apicture may be worth a
thousand words, but while children learn to identifyanimals from picture
books, they still probably don't have a sense about theanimals' sizes,
skin textures, or sounds. Even videos fall short. There's nosubstitute
for firsthand experience. Along the same lines, manipulatives givestudents
ways to construct physical models of abstract mathematical ideas.
lift math off textbook pages. While we wantstudents to become
comfortable and proficient with the language ofmath--everything from
the plus sign to the notations of algebra--words andsymbols only represent
ideas. Ideas exist in children's minds, and manipulativeshelp them construct
an understanding of ideas that they can then connect tomathematical
vocabulary and symbols.
build students' confidence by giving them a way to testand confirm their
reasoning. One goal of the National Council for theTeachers
of Mathematics Standards is to build students' confidence withmathematics.
If students have physical evidence of how their thinking works,their
understanding is more robust.
are useful tools for solving problems. Insearching for solutions,
architects construct models of buildings, engineersbuild prototypes
of equipment, and doctors use computers to predict the impact ofmedical
procedures. In the same way, manipulative materials serve as concretemodels
for students to use to solve problems.
make learning math interesting and enjoyable.Give students
the choice of working on a page of problems or solving a problemwith
colorful and interestingly shaped blocks, and there's no contest.Manipulatives
intrigue and motivate while helping students learn.