Virtual Manipulatives for Mathematics

The video above is an example of how math can be perceived in two totally different ways.  The man is having a hard time explaining how he came up with the answer because ma and pa already think they know how to divide the number even though their answer is totally incorrect.  This is an example where math manipulatives would have been very helpful.  Ma and pa would have had a hard time arguing if they saw 25 things being separated into 5 groups.  Now educators have the convenience of virtual manipulatives for mathematics!

Virtual manipulatives are defined as computer-based simulations of physical manipulatives that are accessed via the internet or computer software (Bouck, E., Flanagan, S. 2010).  Virtual manipulatives are modeled after manipulatives such as blocks, tangrams, coins, spinners, rulers, geoboards, and algebra tiles.  They can support learning mathematics for all students including students with learning disabilities and ELL students.

Virtual manipulatives align with UDL guidelines.  They provide representations that illustrate key concepts non-linguistically.  Students are engaged in lessons that highlight critical features, big ideas, and relationships.  They provide opportunities for students to practice and show what they’ve learned.
For years, hand-held manipulatives have helped students better understand math concepts.  Virtual manipulatives offer more learning opportunities  that aren’t possible with text books or hand held manipulatives.

Example of a division problem from Kidspiration 3 (free 30 day trial available)

Virtual Manipulatives for Mathematics websites

National Manipulative Library
Kidspiration 3
Math Tools
Teachers should take advantage of students’ interest in computers and use virtual manipulatives as much as possible when teaching mathematics.  Abstract concepts are essential to understanding and performing mathematics.  Virtual manipulatives help students process and organize information at their own pace.  As technology continues to evolve, the possibilities for what might be created in the area of virtual manipulatives are endless!


Bouck, E., Flanagan, S. (2010) Virtual Manipulatives Intervention in School and Clinic Retrieved from ERIC database.…/Manipulatives/Virtual%20Manipulaitves.pdf


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. mdemeo
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 18:04:32

    I found your blog to be very interesting and informative. I know that manipulatives are very important when teaching math, but I haven’t given much thought to virtual manipulatives. After reading your blog, I became interested in it and looked through some of the research on manipulatives. Now my question is: why aren’t more teachers using these? Most students love using the computer, and research backs the use of virtual manipulatives. There is plenty of research that has found that children who use manipulatives to learn math, learn much better than children who do not use them. According to Burns and Hamm (2011), virtual manipulatives work just as well as concrete manipulatives for students learning math concepts. If this is the case, virtual manipulatives seem to be the best way to go. They would get students more interested in learning math because they get to do it on a computer! I’m glad you opened my eyes to this method for my own teaching. Thanks for the great post!

    Burns, B. A., & Hamm, E. M. (2011). A comparison of concrete and virtual manipulative use in third- and fourth-grade mathematics. School Science & Mathematics, 111(6), 256-261.


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