Faculty Insights Blog
Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences teachers and other faculty members share insights about childhood development and educational issues.
Insights From Linda Birkholz, First Grade Teacher
But in the age of computers, why use manipulatives? The simple reason is that math concepts are abstract, and manipulatives give students a concrete object to represent the concept being learned.
One of the clearest explanations I have found for using manipulatives is offered by Scholastic Magazine: “Math 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.”
My first graders have always enjoyed using concrete objects to problem solve, but manipulatives are not exclusively for our youngest students. In fact, The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recommends using manipulatives, in addition to other teaching methods, at all grade levels, K-6. Do middle school students seem a little old to be using manipulatives to you? If so, think about how scale models are used. For instance, a few years back at our school’s facilities director created a model of an outdoor playscape that helped parents, staff, and our Board better visualize plans for our preschool and kindergarten play area.
If you have a young child, are you wondering what manipulatives you need to purchase? Blocks and legos are a great start. While counting bears come in bright primary colors and are appealing to young children, they aren’t necessary. There are many other fun ways of using the manipulatives you naturally have in your home to learn math concepts and solve problems. Here are just a few ideas:
- You can count as you take each step up and down the stairs with your toddler.
- Your child can match the number of people eating a meal with the number of utensils they put on the table.
- You can find change around the house for your primary student to sort and count.
-- Linda Birkholz has been teaching first grade at Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences since 2003. You can read her professional bio here.
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