Student writing multiplication problems on a chalkboard

Hands-on learning is both well-known and well-loved as a way to engage the senses when teaching new concepts. Students often learn best while “doing” as it boosts retention, problem solving and critical thinking skills. Putting your hands to work while you learn leads to a visible and tangible result that takes learning to a new level.

It makes sense then, that learning math is no different. To employ the hands-on principle to the subject matter of math, teachers use what is referred to as math manipulatives: objects that are designed to be used to teach math concepts through a hands-on approach. Students can literally manipulate the object with their hands in order to bring the math lesson to life. The idea is that physically grasping the object engages them in active learning so they can intellectually grasp the math skill.

Teachers can employ a hands-on learning approach by putting math manipulatives to use in the classroom in a variety of ways. And while this concept is often commonly used among the littlest learners, it can truly be a benefit for students of all ages.

Hands On Learning - Math Manipulatives to Use in Your Classroom

Hands-on learning using math manipulatives can help students reduce errors, demonstrate concepts in more than one way and make math more fun. Here are some math manipulatives that you can use in your classroom:

1. Blocks or Building Bricks
Perhaps one of the first introductions a child has to math manipulatives, blocks are the perfect example of how to teach little learners how to count, sort and build. Kids can sort the blocks by color, size or shape. It’s fun to stack them and count, or subtract by taking away from the pile. You can help them understand the concept of multiples too by sorting into piles of fives or tens. Building bricks can be used to expand the learning with a geometry lesson that’s visualized by creating new shapes.

2. Marbles or Jelly Beans
Similar to blocks, marbles and jelly beans are a fun treat in more ways than one when it comes to learning math. Students can count them, group them into piles by color, work on adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. Jelly beans make for great group lessons too as kids can work in teams to test each other with various math problems and then gobble up the correct number for whoever gets it right.

3. Toothpicks (and Marshmallows)
Toothpicks are a great way to visualize math concepts. Students can start with a pile of toothpicks and then count, add, subtract, multiply and divide by placing and removing from the pile as needed to get the answer. Another tasty way to bring dimension to the lesson is to incorporate marshmallows. Kids can create geometric shapes by poking the toothpicks into the marshmallows to hold them in place, thus building and expanding into countless designs. This lesson is likely best for older elementary students to be safe with the toothpicks.

4. Money
Remember the great times you had playing Monopoly when you were young (or maybe even now)? You may not have realized that there was a lesson in math built into that game as you were playing, but it’s an early example of using money to teach math. Your stockpile of funds needed to be counted when you must pay a fine, subtracted when you wanted to buy a property and added to every time you passed “Go.” An even earlier example of money as a math manipulative is the toddler-friendly cash registers that are commonly found in preschools, making this an approachable and fun math lesson for any age.

5. Playing Cards
Playing cards are an easily accessible way to help teach a variety of math constructs. You can ask younger students to count their cards for a basic lesson in addition or identify even and odd numbers. A fun game students can play involves using two cards to create a given number, wherein they must find two cards that equate to the designated number through subtraction, addition, multiplication or division.

6. Dominoes
Dominoes are a wonderful tactile experience for students as the cool tiles can elicit a calming effect and the dots can be used for learning addition, subtraction or multiplication. Have students review the number of dots on each end of their tile and then ask them to subtract one from the other, add them together or multiply them.

7. Flash Cards
Flash cards are a classic example of math manipulatives, and they can be tailored to any age and many math lessons. For the youngest learners, start with the basics of simply one number on each card to help them in identifying and learning their numbers. Then, as students advance, flash cards can be used to cover addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

8. Pizza, Pie or Cookies
An excellent – and tasty! – way to demonstrate geometry, fractions, circumference and more, any round object that can be divided will help aid students’ understanding. This manipulative is especially popular for math fiends as “Pi Day” is observed on March 14 each year in celebration of 3.14 for the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.

9. Geoboards
Think of a peg board and string, and how you can move the pegs and string around to create different shapes. This is exactly how geoboards can be used to teach students about shapes and geometry. Students can even create their own geoboards with paper plates or pieces of cardboard, toothpicks and string.


Get Hands On With Math in the Classroom

Depending on how your students learn best, using a hands-on learning approach such as math manipulatives in your classroom can be a lifeline for those who struggle to grasp certain math concepts. Even for the strongest mathematicians in your class though, manipulatives can lead to a deeper understanding of the concepts. And ultimately, it can make learning math more fun and effective for all!

At Raymond Geddes, we’re here to support educators in achieving their classroom goals, including how to put hands-on learning such as math manipulatives to use in your classroom. Contact us today or request a school supply catalog and learn more about the supplies and resources from Raymond Geddes.