How to Make the Most of Math Manipulatives

by Marilyn Burns

A fresh look at getting students' heads — and hands! — around math concepts

You find them in classrooms across the nation — buckets of pattern blocks; trays of tiles and cubes; and collections of geoboards, tangrams, counters, and spinners. They've been touted as a way to help students learn math more easily. But many teachers still ask: Are manipulatives a fad? How do I fit them into my instruction? How often should I use them? How do I make sure students see them as learning tools, not toys? How can I communicate their value to parents? Are they useful for upper-grade students, too?

I've used manipulative materials at all levels for 30 years, and I'm convinced I can't — and shouldn't — teach without them. Here I look at every side — and corner, color, and shape — of manipulatives and share:


Marilyn Burns, a household name to elementary teachers across the country, is the creator of Math Solutions, inservice programs offered nationwide. She is also the author of numerous books and articles and edits Instructor's monthly Math in Action column. Contact Marilyn Burns Education Associates at (800) 868-9092 for information about this summer's nationwide schedule of five-day Math Solutions courses or Math Solutions inservice programs and books.

Back to top