In order for teachers to productively incorporate any type of manipulative in their classroom they need to have a “clear understanding of how manipulatives assist (when) children learn” (Swan & Marshall, 2010, p. 16). Without pedagogical understanding of the manipulatives teachers may use them in ways that do not contribute to, or potentially inhibit, student understanding. The foundations for using manipulatives effectively can be laid when working with preservice teachers or through professional development opportunities (Swan & Marshall, 2010). These experiences not only provide insights into how to use manipulatives, but can help teachers view the role of these tools as a key part of the educational process. These beliefs are particularly important as they are “predictors of how effectively teachers use them (manipulatives) with students during mathematics instruction” (Moyer-Packenham et al., 2013, p. 26).
When creating quality activities it is important for teachers to think about mathematical, cognitive, and pedagogical considerations that come into play when students work with manipulatives (Moyer-Packenham et al., 2008). Manipulatives by themselves do not carry meaning (Moyer-Packenham et al., 2008). It is up to the teacher to guide students as they relate their actions to the mathematical context through careful planning, reflection, and interactions.
Moyer-Packenham, P., Baker, J., Westenskow, A., Anderson, K., Shumway, J., Rodzon, K., &
Jordan, K. (2013). A study comparing virtual manipulatives with other instructional
treatments in third and fourth grade classrooms. Journal of Education, 193(2), 25–39.
Moyer-Packenham, P., Salkind, G., & Bolyard, J. J. (2008). Virtual manipulatives used by K-
8 teachers for mathematics instruction: Considering mathematical, cognitive, and
pedagogical fidelity. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education (CITE
Journal), 8(3), 202–218.
Swan, P., & Marshall, L. (2010). Revisiting mathematics manipulative materials. Australian
Primary Mathematics Classroom, 15(2), 13–19.