# Math manipulatives

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Which manipulatives have been the most useful to you?

Edited by JoyKM
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My children and I are not kinesthetic, and so we were never into manipulatives all that much, not even in the early 80s when we were told that if our children weren't doing math with manipulatives there was sin in our lives. 🙂 Once I took a half-day class that was about manipulatives, held at a store of some kind; all of the other participants were professional teachers. We played with pattern blocks, and something I have forgotten the name of...if you have seven squares, there is a finite number of ways you can shape those squares because then you're just making it longer or wider...yeah, those; and a couple of other things, and the teachers were all excited, and I was pondering how I had thrown \$35 down a black hole, because I didn't see how any of these things helped children become math-y.

And then the last 10 minutes the presenter brought out base 10 blocks. AT LAST!!! A manipulative that made sense to me!! 🙂

A friend used to wax eloquent about Cuisenaire rods. I loved her, and so one day I let her bring over her C. rods so I could play with them. Meh. A few years later (after the class debacle), I decided I was going to Learn to Love C. Rods, so I bought a set called "Mathematics Made Meaningful." It consists of a set of task cards and C. rods, and you start with #1 and go from there. The first task is to dump the rods on the table and divide them into piles according to color; then you mess them up and divide them into piles according to size. Hey! It's the same piles! By about the fourth or fifth task, I was a fan. I *totally* get the concepts those rods teach. I don't have the task cards handy (yes, I still have MMM set, which I don't think is manufactured any longer), but it seems to me that the task cards go into algebra.

So, for *me*, the most useful manipulatives would have been C. rods and base 10 blocks. Pattern blocks and tangrams are fun, but I still don't understand how they help children learn any kind of math-y skills. Dominoes would be fun, and games that use dice.

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The two essentials at my place have been Cuisenaire rods and the Papy Minicomputer (there are lessons based on these in the CSMP curriculum, which you can find by googling "CSMP Materials".) Other things like dice, geoboards, the abacus etc have come in handy at various points, but I had a kid with dyscalculia, so it was all hands on deck, so to speak. Oh, and the Hands on Equations baby algebra was very useful in showing me how to teach that with manipulatives. Dd learned well from that.

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Agreeing with Rosie -- dice, tangrams, and dominoes were very much a lower tier manipulative *for us*. Those are esp. useful as part of an existing game, or making up your own games that encourage thinking, calculating, logic, etc,

Our favorite manipulatives (plus ideas of booklets, downloads, videos, etc. to help get the most out of the manipulative):
- cusienaire rodsMiquon Math program (also: Education Unboxed videos; Idea BookAddition and SubtractionSpatial Rod ProblemsEverything's Coming Up FractionsRod Clue Puzzles)
- MUS manipulatives + MUS program
- pattern blocks  (Math Discoveries with Pattern Blocks; Pattern Block Lessons free pdf; Advanced Pattern Block bookmore pattern block resources in this thread)
- geoboards  (Math Discoveries with Geoboardsactivity book, Working with GeoboardsGeoboard Activity book;, Enhanced Points of Departure printable)
- Mathlink Cubes  (Activity Book; Problem Solving with Cubes)

Edited by Lori D.
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Fraction tiles

3D geometrical shapes

MUS blocks

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I used to own just about everything, but found so much to be redundant and a waste. If you see stuff cheap because it is used, then it might be worth it. I have Math U See blocks. I would prefer Base Ten blocks, but the kids love the more colorful MUS blocks so when I had both, I sold off the plain blue base ten blocks.  We actually homemade a base ten set in the beginning and I liked that way better. We used beads and yard, but pipe cleaners might have been better. The one thing I do like and think everyone should have is a small Judy Clock. I also put real clocks in all the rooms. For money, we have a change jar and count from that. I have 3D shapes, but I never use them. They were pretty much a waste. I have had math blocks and unifix cubes, but now just use blocks from the toys or Legos for stuff. Basically, I have simply found real things around the house to be better than things bought and made to be manipulatives. SO, in conclusion, if I were buying this stuff, it would be beads and pipe cleaners to home make the base ten blocks (and have the kids make them, that in itself is educational) and clocks for around the house and at least one little Judy Clock. Also, we do use our counting/sorting bears a lot, but my daughter loves using her Shopkins and Lego charactors work...anything that can be counting.

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c-rods have been used the most and are the most flexible of what we have.

I bought and tried to use RightStart. The program just didn't click with us, but the manipulatives I have kept and used. There are a lot. I really like- geoboard, abacus, place value cards, clock, tangrams, meter stick, and the whole math games kit.

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What we have used the most are fraction tiles (the round ones work best for us -- like pizza or pie).  We also have some "counters" that were useful for some of mine.

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For all my kids:  cuisinaire rods, base ten set

For one of my kids a geared click was really helpful.  For another child, a fraction pie set (diY craft foam) was essential.

Edited by Syllieann
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We use random things around the house, c-rods, and a 10 frame. While I bought a set of 10 frames, one could easily DIY and use with random beans or whatever for filling them.

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Edited by JoyKM
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Something for counters- we have counting bears, but will often use different things to change it up. A regular battery operated clock on the wall to which I laminate a bigger circle to mount behind it with the minutes written around for help telling time and counting by 5's. We also have a chalkboard clock thing with hands that turn that she can play with. That isn't necessary with the real clock to look at, but kids like it. I have good dice, all kinds. I have very large dice which are fun to play with and regular dice for dice games. I have dice that have numbers by 2s, 5s, 10s, etc. I have different shaped dice with all of the platonic solids, etc. Also a set of geometric shaped figures are good to have too.   I keep a good children's calendar on the wall and a 100s chart for skip counting and other activities.  I made my own number bond triangle cards by cutting triangles out of manila folders. I create flashcards of math facts with a magic marker and index cards.

I think daily that is mostly what I use. I do create learning posters to go with my particular math curriculum which creates posters to explain concepts.

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Cuisenaire Rods.  I love them.   I've used them consistently K-6 (eldest is in 6th).  From simple addition to dividing fractions by fractions.  They are the one manipulative that sees regular, year-round use.  Our box is nicknamed "The (non-electronic) Calculator".

I've also gotten a lot of mileage out of a regular deck of cards (mostly playing "war" to drill facts.  Addition war, subtraction war, multiplication war, fraction war etc).

If I could only have one thing, it would be c-rods.  If I could only have two things, it would be c-rods plus a deck of cards.

We've also gotten good use out of pattern blocks, a set of geometric solids, tangrams, base-ten blocks and an analog clock.   I'm happy to have these, and find them useful.  But they don't get the same kind of heavy, regular use that our c-rods and regular playing cards do.

I also consider board games that involve mathematical thinking to be a kind of essential math manipulative.  We've gotten lots of use out of Prime Climb, Blokus, Qwirkle, Hive, Chess, Checkers, Set, Mancala, Mahjong, 3-d Tic-Tac-Toe etc.  Many of these are accessible to even very young children with a few modified rules or by playing in teams.  Check thrift stores for inexpensive copies.

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I really like RightStart manipulatives. I love their card games (especially corners).  I love their centimeter cubes and colored tiles for teaching perimeter and area.  I love their fraction chart pieces.  I also use their balance/scale quite often and their geometric shapes are awesome.  Expensive but worthy it in my opinion.

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Edited by JoyKM
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25 minutes ago, JoyKM said:

Good point!  The grown ups around here play several of those games, so I’ll have to start bringing them in for the kids. Hadn’t heard of Prime Club—thanks for the suggestion!

Prime Climb is a rare "educational games" that is actually fun 🙂.  A bit of a unicorn, really.

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C-Rods.  And base-10 blocks.  Hands-down the big winner around here.

They go into my "If all you could teach from had to fit in a backpack" backpack.

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• 1 month later...
3 hours ago, Servant4Christ said:

I'm debating on either adding a set of mathlink cubes or c-rods to our box so I can put the duplos back in the duplo bin. Which would be most useful? If c-rods, which c-rods do most of you prefer? I'm looking and there are several options. Wooden, plastic, magnetic, connecting (unifix style), some have the individual lines on them, ect.

C-rods are much more versatile.  I love them. ( I'm still using them in grade 5 to teach multiplication and division with fractions)

I like wooden ones - they just feel nice in the hand.

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As many as possible 🙂

At least one "small group set" which is 155 rods.

We have 2 small group sets.  I think that's just right for us.  They get used for free play, dawdling during math time, and for more formal learning and teaching.

We've needed extra orange rods for teaching multi-digit multiplication.  I picked up some base-ten ten-rods in orange.  They are the same size (1cm units).  The c-rods also work nicely with base-ten hundreds flats.  Also, the rods are the same width as a standard wooden popsicle stick.  I trimmed popsicle sticks down to size to fill in for extra rods when needed.  Labour intensive, but cheap!

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2 hours ago, square_25 said:

In my homeschool classes, I really liked using dice, cards, and differently colored poker chips for place value. For preschoolers, I tend to encourage use of fingers.

I liked poker chips better than anything else for place value because they were stackable and easier to deal with than most place value manipulatives, and because they are sufficiently abstract as to translate perfect into place value.

I am wary of manipulatives that don't LET you count, like C-rods. I'm aware I may get shouted down about this, but while I think it's extremely important for kids to STOP counting eventually, I like that they can count for small sums as a backup if need be.

Sure you can count with c-rods: if you are using the 1cm white rods as "one", then you line up as many white rods as you need beside which ever rod you need to count out.  It takes a little more time but it's totally doable.   The beauty of c-rods is that you can choose any of the rods  to represent "one".  Super useful when teaching fractions.

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1 minute ago, square_25 said:

I know, but it seems to make quantity a bit more mysterious. I may be prejudiced here, because I always start my kids on fingers, which are countable.

I haven't tried using them, as a disclaimer. It's just my personal bias :-).

You should try them.  They're addictve.  (I'm totally a c-rod pusher 🙂 )

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We are team c-rods here. They are really the only math manipulative that we ever use and even my older kids occasionally pull them out when trying to grapple with new concepts. DD4 who is doing Singapore 1a likes using them better than the pictures in the book. We have them and some 100 flats and a thousand cube. They also go together well with the Dragonbox Nooms app (although I'm still sad they aren't the same colors). Pretty much every other manipulative I ever bought has been more of a short-term toy. But the c-rods have received regular use. We have pattern blocks, rubber band boards, base ten set, dice, counters, abacus (traditional and Melissa and Doug), etc. But c-rods are what we use and I even had to buy some more because some were lost between dd8 and dd4. I probably wouldn't bother with the others if I had it to do over. Maybe the M&D abacus. The kids like to count on it and play with it a lot. But not do math.

Edited by MeaganS
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Base 10 blocks

3D Geometric shapes

Geoboards

Pattern blocks

balance scale

dice

I was lucky to come upon a garage sale of a former teacher and so I have unifix cubes, counting bears, fraction strips, pizza fractions, etc.  We didn't use them much except the kids liked to build with them when I was reading history aloud. The bears would have little wars with each other.  LOL.

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