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Virtual Manipulatives Help Teach Early Numeracy

Understanding abstract concepts is crucial to being successful in math, but some ideas are difficult to grasp and sometimes kids struggle to learn them.

Many educators agree that “manipulatives” are among the best math resources for teachers to help students visualize a concept in more concrete terms, and to link new ideas to prior knowledge. Now, with wide internet adoption, virtual manipulatives can support math learning both in and outside the classroom. Virtual manipulatives are interactive web-based representations of their physical counterparts that not only give teachers the ability to demonstrate a concept, but give students a way to manipulate the objects to construct mathematical knowledge.

Flash & build mathrack screen

A DreamBox mathrack lesson

DreamBox developed a unique set of virtual manipulatives

At DreamBox, our teachers worked closely with our software developers to create virtual manipulatives based on classroom experiences. The DreamBox virtual manipulatives, innovative tools around which all DreamBox lessons are built, were developed based on tools that have been shown by research to be most effective in teaching a concept. They help students better understand core math concepts and give them plenty of opportunities to build knowledge through direct hands-on experience. In this way, students are directly engaged in the problem-solving process, allowing them to explore new strategies, replay lessons, and reset and self-correct where necessary.

The DreamBox curriculum is aligned with the Focal Points for each grade set by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. For DreamBox Learning K-2 Math, we developed a number of different virtual manipulatives, each uniquely suited to teach the key Number and Operations Focal Points and Algebra Focal Points for each grade level. For example:

Snap blocks screen

A Snap Blocks™ lesson

  • The tenframe, mathrack, and Numbergram™ tools support students in conceptualizing numbers as groups rather than individual objects to be counted, combining numbers to make other numbers, and investigating relationships between numbers. These relationships form the basis for efficient computation and flexible, quick recall of math facts.
  • The Snap Blocks™ tool provides a visual representation of numbers, which students can use to compare the relationship between quantities. The tool supports students to develop efficient strategies and provide an important foundation for early algebra.
  • The open number line tool can be used to support a number of mathematical ideas including counting, addition and subtraction, modeling situations, and representing student strategies.
Open Number Line screen

A DreamBox open number line lesson

Research supports virtual manipulatives as beneficial elementary teacher resources

Research on the use of manipulatives provides insight into the benefits of using them to support math learning. Using virtual manipulatives can help students develop a richer understanding of concepts – even more so than using physical manipulatives (Moyer, Niezgoda, & Stanley, 2005).

Virtual manipulatives can be especially advantageous for students with language difficulties, who sometimes find it difficult to explain what they’re learning in math. Virtual manipulatives can help them clarify and demonstrate their thinking to others.

Virtual manipulatives have also been shown to support math learning for students with disabilities. Like using physical manipulatives, virtual tools need to be integrated into the curriculum. When they are, they can provide guided exploration, helping students really grasp math concepts and demonstrate learning.

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