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Math Supplies: Math Manipulatives

By Kathleen Cantor, 30 Jul 2021

Teaching math is not always easy to do, even if you're good at it. You not only have to juggle different ways to solve different concepts, but you also have to take into consideration different ways of learning. Some students are tactile and visual learners, so it's important to have specific type of math supplies; math manipulatives, that allow these types of learners to really engage.

Fortunately, math manipulatives are a great way to help students better grasp concepts. It doesn't matter if you teach in a private school, public school, or at home—these tactile tools will help you teach concepts in a refreshing, concrete way.

Below is a list of some of the best math manipulatives for middle school and high school—around when math starts to throw students curveballs. Though spectacular tools for the classroom, you can use these items at home, too.

Math Manipulatives for Middle School

Middle school math is an awkward time—like your students, the mathematical concepts are growing up. Expect stumbles, frustrations, and a desire to return to some of the learning reinforcement techniques students used in elementary school. However, instead of reverting to basic games, use intermediate math manipulatives that require more independence.

1. Hands-On Equations Learning System

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You may want to buy more than one of these so you can use it in the classroom as a group or allow a few students to use it on their own at the same time. The hands-on equations learning system simplifies teaching basic algebraic concepts. The system uses game pieces and cards to help students physically represent a linear equation.

By having a physical representation of the equation, students can see what they are doing and visualize it later as they move onto more challenging algebraic concepts.

2. Geometric Solids

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Geometric solids are great for helping students learn basic geometry. You can also use them to understand surface area and other geometry concepts. Sometimes it is hard to visualize what the teacher is talking about without seeing a physical example. Sure there can be examples in the book, but they are not 3D.

These 3D shapes are 3 cm-6 cm large, transparent, and brightly colored, making it a lot easier to visualize volume. You can also fill the shapes with liquid or dry materials.

3. Centimeter Cubes

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These cubes come in ten different colors. They do not interlock and each cube is exactly 1 cm. Students can use the cubes to make similar figures, illustrate fractions, and work out probability. The set comes with 1,000 cubes so you will have enough to let every student in the classroom use some.

You can even use the cubes to help students learn measuring before handing them a ruler. Learning how to measure things can be tricky so starting with the cubes gives students a more familiar and easy-to-read tool to work with.

Math Manipulatives for High School

In high school, students learn several different branches of math—calculus, trigonometry, etc. Some argue that math manipulatives have no place in high school. However, that depends on the student, the teacher, and the parent. We could even argue that the math involved in physics, chemistry, and engineering all have some sort of innate math manipulative component to them.

1. EAI Education Exploragons

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This set of 80 colorful sticks snap together, allowing students to easily measure angles and experiment with geometric concepts. While this set may be intended for a middle-school geometry class, it would translate well into a powerful tool for High school Trigonometry students as well. In fact, the recommended age for these Exploragons goes up to 17 years old.

The sticks come in eight lengths, opening up many possibilities for students to have hands-on learning experiences. The set also comes with four clear protractors.

2. Texas Instruments TI-89 Titanium CAS Graphing Calculator

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Graphing calculators are important for every high school student. These calculators help students with extremely complicated math equations. Another good thing about this particular graphing calculator is that it can be used on both the SAT and ACTs. Both tests strongly encourage using a calculator the student is familiar with when taking the test.

It is also a good idea to encourage all the students in the classroom to use the same calculator. It can get confusing if the teacher is constantly switching between calculator instructions. If it's in the school budget, request that the school invest in some for students to use in class. This eliminates any disadvantages between students who cannot afford to buy one.

3. Centimeter Grid Dry-Erase Boards

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A centimeter grid dry-erase board helps students learn graphing, data collection, and statistics concepts in an interactive way. Having the board in the students' hands helps them create the visualizations they need to reinforce concepts.

These boards also help students develop and reinforce their sense of measurement. Since the boards are dry-erase they can be used over and over. Eventually, you may need to replace a board or two, but they certainly are not a one-and-done type of thing.

Why Are Math Manipulatives Important?

What is so important about math manipulatives anyway? Plain and simple, these math supplies help students do the math physically so they can actually understand it. Having physical items in their hands as they do the math helps students learn the concepts in a concrete, visual way. As the student moves into more abstract thinking and concepts the solid base they got from the math manipulatives provides a reference point.

Which Ones Should I Keep in My Classroom?

There are a lot of different math manipulatives because each classroom and student is different. What works for one student may not work for another. Therefore, keep more than one math manipulative for the same subject—but there's no need to go overboard.

For example, you may have a 3D shape set—tangrams—to help teach middle school geometry. But it is also smart to have a couple of other math manipulatives to help teach geometry, like blocks.

Final Words

It does not matter if you are a parent or a teacher. Math manipulatives are something you want to have in your teaching arsenal. They can help your student not just memorize concepts but understand them as well.


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