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Manipulatives in Education: Definition, Examples & Classroom Applications

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  • 0:05 What Are Manipulatives?
  • 1:01 Applications in Math
  • 2:09 Applications in Poetry
  • 2:43 Applications in Geography
  • 3:48 Applications in Language
  • 4:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Firestone
Find out what manipulatives are and how they're used in an educational setting. Learn how to apply manipulatives to lessons in your classroom. Read the lesson, then take a quiz to test your new knowledge.

What Are Manipulatives?

Manipulatives, in the context of education, are physical tools of teaching, engaging students visually and physically with objects such as coins, blocks, puzzles, markers, etc. The use of manipulatives is constructivist because students are actively engaged in discovery during the learning process. A teacher provides the materials along with a basic direction, but students should be allowed to explore the materials and ask questions before and during the lesson.

According to education professor Dr. Jean Shaw, manipulatives are effective for the following reasons: they are multisensory, they represent ideas in more than one way, they promote communication among students, and they increase confidence, leading to lessened confusion and deepened understanding.

According to a review of studies by the National Center for Accessing the General Curriculum, certain groups of students, including learning-disabled students and students with limited English skills, benefit from using manipulatives.

Applications in Math

Math lessons are a common classroom application of manipulatives because they easily allow students to physically apply the concepts of addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication. For example, students could 'play store' with 'money' that they create in a separate class project. Allow them to decide on what type of store it will be and let them bring things of their own to 'sell,' or allow them to create the products, which remain in the classroom when the lesson isn't in progress.

Elementary students could first have a math lesson that focuses on how to make change. They would be taught the values of coins; pennies are one cent, nickels are five cents, dimes are ten cents, and so on. They could then practice skills of addition and subtraction by making change while shopping and paying for items in the class 'store.' Students purchasing items would compare prices to the amount of money they have to spend, and store keepers could practice giving them back their correct change.

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