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Your guide to Virtual Math Manipulatives

Virtual Math Manipulatives are SO handy!

Have you ever ended your rock star math lesson, only to find manipulatives scattered on the floor? What about the time you had just got into your teacher flow only to be interrupted by the crashing of base ten blocks hitting the floor and scattering to the far reaches of your classroom? Have you ever emptied your pockets at the end of the day and found them filled with cubes and colorful math chips? 

Then, virtual math manipulatives may be the ticket to solving all your problems!

As a 2nd grade teacher, I learned early on that math manipulatives are essential to early math learners. The problem is manipulatives can be expensive and oftentimes students have to share them. Or students are doing online learning and don’t have access to the manipulatives they need to grow their mathematical understanding. 

That is where virtual math manipulatives are helpful. 

Why Virtual Math Manipulatives?

Easy to clean up: With the click of a button students boards are cleared and the “mess” has been put away. Also, students don’t have to spend time cleaning before rotating to their next station. It’s all neatly contained on their screen. BONUS:Pieces are not lost or are mysteriously missing or end up in your pants pockets. 

Distance learning friendly/ Classroom Friendly: If you taught during the 2020 pandemic you know the struggle of learning to pull online math lessons out of thin air. Teaching students to use virtual math manipulatives in the classroom will give them practice if distance learning strikes again and you will be ready this time!

Use them in lessons or set up centers for students to practice. Or maybe you teach at a 1:1 school and virtual math manipulatives will give students opportunities for homework at their level because virtual math manipulatives are readily available online. 

Model during online lessons or videos: That’s right! Pull up that website or app, and share your screen or hit record and teach to your heart’s content with a variety of manipulatives at your fingertips. 

Variety: Depending on the website or app you use, teachers and students can change out their manipulatives with a swipe here and a click there. And there are so many to choose from!

Ways to use Virtual Math Manipulatives

Screenshot student work: When students screenshot their work they can upload the picture to the platform of your choice or email it to you and VOILA!  There is a copy of your student work! How do you screenshot? Here are some helpful keyboard shortcuts to help you and your students. 

PC: Win + PrtScn (printscreen)

Chromebook: Ctrl + Switch window 

Mac: Command+Shift+3

iPad: Press the home and top power button simultaneously and release quickly.

Task Cards: In the classroom, students can practice math skills using task cards and can do the work with virtually. This also saves you paper and you don’t have to worry about running out of copies!

Google Classroom: You can create your own math manipulatives and use them as moveable pieces inside of Google Classroom using Google Slides. If that sounds like a lot of work, that’s ok! There are plenty of teacher authors who have created math activities with virtual math manipulatives built and ready for you to use.  Here is an example of how I’ve used virtual math manipulatives inside of Google Slides with base ten blocks.

BONUS: No screenshot necessary! Assign the Google Slides so that each student gets a copy and when they turn it in, reviewing their work is easy to access. 

Websites

Here is my short list of virtual math manipulatives with a quick pros and cons list to help you choose which is best for you. 

Didax

Pros: 

  • Free
  •  Free downloadable activities
  • Dice that are “rollable” (my favorite feature)
  • Spinners that are “spinnable”
  • Easy to use

Cons: 

  • Limited manipulatives compared to other websites
  • Sale banners 
  • No way to save work, students will need to screenshot

Toy Theater

Pros:

  • Free
  • Full screen availability
  • Light, bright and clean
  • Switching kinds of manipulatives is quick and easy
  • Huge variety 
  • Suggests similar tools on the side

Cons: 

  • Ads in the sidebar
  • No way to save work, students will need to screenshot.

Apps

Math Learning Center

Pros:

  • Available in :Web App, Chrome App, and Apple App Store
  • Teachers can initiate a problem and send it out using a link and students can solve it.
  • Work can easily be saved or copied as an image to upload to a digital learning platform
  • Work can be sent to the teacher via a generated link 
  • Includes math vocabulary cards

Cons:

  • Separate apps are needed for each manipulative
  • Limited variety

How have you used virtual math manipulatives in your classroom? I’d love to hear your ideas! 

hey bonita
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