Research has proven that students who are taught using hands-on teaching methods with manipulatives outperform those who are not. It is true for many subjects but most documented in mathematics as acquisition of early math knowledge and skills is the most important predictor not only for later math achievement but also for achievement in other content areas (Amy Claessens, The University of Chicago and Mimi Engel, Vanderbilt University, 2013).
Math is often thought of as a subject that relies on memorization of facts and practicing skills, but the true test of success in mathematics comes when a student must figure out an answer but can’t remember a fact, or has forgotten a skill. Hands-on learning drives authentic understanding and application versus memorization algorithms, or “tricks.” Students who use manipulatives create physical evidence of thinking and reasoning, solve problems, and make sense of mathematical ideas.
Hands-On Learning: Proven to Increase Student Outcomes
- “[I]n order to develop every student’s mathematical proficiency, leaders and teachers must systematically integrate the use of concrete and virtual manipulatives into classroom instruction at all grade levels.” –National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM) position statement based on over forty years of extensive research on the use of manipulatives in classroom instruction to improve student achievement (2013)
- What Works Clearinghouse report Assisting Students Struggling with Mathematics: Response to Intervention (RTI) for Elementary and Middle Schools recommends using visual models and manipulatives and cites research to support this recommendation. The report cites ample evidence about how the Concrete–Representational–Abstract (CRA) method helps students make connections between concrete manipulatives and abstract mathematical ideas. (2009)
- “The evidence indicates, in short, that manipulatives can provide valuable support for student learning when teachers interact over time with the students to help them build links between the object, the symbol, and the mathematical idea both represent.” –Adding It Up: Helping Children Learn Mathematics, National Research Council (2001)
- Students who are presented with the opportunity to use manipulatives report that they are more interested in mathematics. Long-term interest in mathematics translates to increased mathematical ability. –Sutton & Krueger (2002)
- “When students are exposed to hands-on learning on a weekly rather than a monthly basis, they prove to be 72% of a grade level ahead in mathematics.” –Analysis of NAEP data, Wenglinsky’s (2000)
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