[Numeracy 205] Re: Using manipulatives

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Kate Nonesuch Kate.Nonesuch at viu.ca
Mon Feb 22 00:00:16 EST 2010

Manipulatives slow down the action.
I think that the point you mention, Susan, is one of the benefits of using manipulatives. It's true that it takes more time, at first, but watching a learner use manipulatives gives you a kind of slow motion glimpse of his thinking process. As he moves from counting each item to counting by twos or fives, you can see the progress he's making, and you can judge when to introduce some new ideas.
There are three other benefits I see:

The student controls the pace of the work.
This means that the learner decides when to "move on" to a shorter, more efficient way to do something, and will do this when she has thoroughly understood the basics on which the shortcut rests. It means that I don't rush her with my pace, or hold her back when she's ready to move.

Manipulatives help students remember.
Anyone who has watched someone use manipulatives to show the four operations can see that the meaning of the operations is lodged in the movement of the arms-the pulling together motion of adding, the separating motion of subtracting, the familiar motion of sharing out for division, and the movement of the arms to put down a group of items the required number of times for multiplication. Early in every term, I see someone faced with the problem of showing 5 x 3 with the blocks, who gets out three and five and wonders what to do with them. I say to myself, "Glad we're working with manipulatives again."

Students get the right answer.
Or, if they get the wrong answer, they find it out before you do. For example, the question that says, "Put these fractions in order from smallest to largest: ¼, 1/2 , 1/10." By the time you get to their desk, they have got the right answer, and you can say, "Yes, that's right," and have a conversation about how it is unexpected that the fraction with the biggest denominator is in fact the smallest fraction. Whereas, if they are not using manipulatives, they often get it wrong, and you have to start by saying, "No, you've got that one wrong." Not such a good emotional space to be in when you're trying to do teaching and learning.

Kate Nonesuch
Changing the Way We Teach Math http://www.nald.ca/library/learning/mathman/mathman.pdf
Victoria, BC
kate.nonesuch at viu.ca

From: Susan Fontenot
Sent: Sun 2/21/2010 12:00 PM
To: jasonsmullen at gmail.com; The Math and Numeracy Discussion List
Subject: [Numeracy 203] Re: Using manipulatives

It can also be more time consuming using manipulatives because some students count every single object until they learn to count in groups such as 5's and 10's.

Hope this helps!
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