Virtual Manipulatives

Although physical manipulatives to help solve math problems have been around as long as humans have had fingers, the introduction of physical objects to teach math did not become widespread until the 20th century. Read More… Read Less

These concrete materials were initially developed and discussed by educational innovators like Maria Montessori to offer hands-on materials to help children connect concrete to abstract thinking. With the expansion of technology into classrooms, however, the 1980s saw an explosion in virtual manipulatives to offer a complementary mechanism for concrete representation of abstract ideas. Research shows that virtual manipulatives offer a number of benefits compared with physical objects including fewer distractions, they can easier to use with less cleanup, and they can offer immediate feedback (Sarama and Clements 2009). Research has also shown that student learning outcomes are better when both types are used, rather than physical manipulatives alone (Olson 1988). Overall, few experts would suggest using only virtual/online or concrete/physical versions of these tools. Rather, they can be see as complements to one another. The benefits may depend on the specific resources available in each particular classroom or schooling environment.