Summer Learning with Hands-On Manipulatives

Summer Learning with Hands-On Manipulatives

Summer learning is always a critical thing to consider when educating students. When looking at summer learning, I like to think of it as addressing unfinished learning rather than learning gaps. Whether it’s summer school or summer learning packets to help address unfinished learning, consideration must be paid to increasing the effectiveness. Too often, we focus on what we perceive the students can’t do rather than focusing on what they can do and using that to continue to build their learning. Let’s take a strength-based approach to educating our students. A student who is currently struggling on a concept has already begun to learn it, and we can help finish that learning. 


Albert Einstein is often credited with saying the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This is especially true when we think about summer learning. We must look at doing things differently than we did during the school year if we are truly interested in meeting the needs of our students. If doing a summer school program means merely giving the students more of the same things from the school year, it’s highly unlikely the program will generate much success.   


Consider doing more hands-on learning and reinforcing skills with students. You can use concrete physical manipulatives, paper-made manipulatives, or virtual manipulatives. When students are using hands-on learning, they are much more engaged, which is so vitally important. They’re able to continue developing an understanding of the concepts rather than trying to memorize what to do. 


What should we focus on? This needs to be a critical part of the planning process. Not everything from the school year can be retaught in a summer school or reinforced with summer learning packets, etc. The key content and ideas from the grade level must be identified. A great resource for this is a priority instructional content document from Achieve the Core. In it, the crucial content for each grade (K–8) in math and literacy is provided. This is a wonderful starting point to use in determining what to focus on for summer learning., 


Most will agree that number operations are a key area in K–5 math. How might this look for summer? I remember when my daughters were younger, they’d come home with a packet full of worksheets to do over the summer. Often those who know how to do those problems complete it (perhaps with some structure provided from an adult). But what about those who don’t fully understand or lack the confidence? Do they finish the packets? Do they truly gain in skill by repeatedly doing a set of problems? 


Consider instead providing some games to help students gain additional skills practice. Students are much more likely to complete them and will be much more engaged. We should be providing opportunities that will engage each and every student, not just those who already have confidence in their skills. Let’s make learning and practice fun! Consider this free game from rather than a worksheet full of single-digit multiplication.   


Instead of a worksheet full of single-digit addition, let’s turn the practice into an engaging game. Provide students with a 6 x 6 game board with a sum between 2 and 12 in each square.  Students can roll three dice and choose which two to find the sum of. They then cover the square with that sum on the game board. Partners take turns until one player has three squares in a row, column, or diagonal. Students are much more likely to do this game than they would a worksheet full of problems. 


Best wishes for a successful summer learning program! 


Click here to watch Kevin Dykema's free webinar: "Rise to the Challenge of Summer Learning"

5 months ago
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Kevin Dykema

Kevin Dykema is an energetic teacher and presenter who has a passion for mathematics. He has taught 8th grade math for the past 26 years and is currently teaching at Mattawan (MI)Middle School. Kevin is the co-author of Productive Math Struggle. He also conducts many professional development sessions throughout the United States on the use of manipulatives in the math classroom to develop a conceptual understanding of the math. Kevin served on the Board of Directors for NCTM from 2016-2019 and is currently the President of NCTM. Kevin was a 2017 state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

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