Manipulatives are frequently used in the elementary math classroom, but use drops off when math begins to become more complex in the higher grades. Manipulatives can be a useful teaching tool for students with LDs, as they increase the number of sensory inputs a student uses while learning the new concept. The increase in sensory inputs improves the chances for a student to remember the procedures to solve a problem (Witzel, 2005).
If manipulatives are unavailable or the student resists using manipulatives, virtual manipulatives are a good alternative. Virtual manipulatives are online or app-based versions of concrete manipulative objects.
Some benefits of virtual manipulatives include:
- they can be used discreetly on a tablet so as not to draw attention to students with LDs, who may need to use manipulatives for a longer period of time in the learning process compared to their peers without LDs
- ease of managing and transporting materials, which benefits busy educators as well as students with LDs who may have challenges with organization and other executive functions
- they can be accessed by as many students as required on their personal devices, at school or at home
- many virtual manipulatives come with prompts and scaffolds to support greater student independence
(Bouck & Sprick, 2019)
To learn more about how manipulatives can be used to support math learning at all levels, click here to watch the video “Math Manipulatives: Tools to Help All Students Become Effective Problem Solvers”