Math Manipulatives for Special Ed Students

Make Math Concepts Easier to Understand

Manipulatives help special education students by providing a concrete representation of abstract math concepts.

Special education students always struggle to understand ideas that are too abstract, thus Math class is particularly challenging. Some students might be able to understand many math concepts by listening to a teacher’s explanation on a chalkboard. However, for special education students, this will not be enough. Special education students often need a hands-on approach to learning.

Special ed students are usually visual learners. Manipulatives are, therefore, an excellent tool for them. When students work with manipulatives, they are using their visual and tactile skills to enhance their learning experience. Manipulatives not only make learning easier but are also fun to work with. Most students enjoy working with manipulatives.

Manipulatives for Common Math Problems

Numerical Representation

One of the first concepts special education students struggle with is the idea that a numeral is the written representation of a given quantity of items. Many elementary grade students will learn to count to 10 without understanding what each number represents. They will have memorized a sequence of numbers but have not grasped the meaning of the numerals. This concept can be taught by showing the student the number 2 and accompanying it with two blocks, the number 3 with three blocks and so on.

Place Value

Understanding place value is another common math problem. Small blocks that can be connected to form groups of 10, 100 or 1000 ( base ten blocks) are very useful in teaching place value. Base ten blocks help students see exactly what is meant by ones, tens, hundreds, etc…

Time and Money

Learning how to tell time and counting money are two other concepts students too often struggle with, but that can be made easier to learn with manipulatives. Paper plates can be made into the face of a clock and fake money can be used to learn the value of each coin.

Materials for Easy Math Manipulatives

Math manipulatives do not have to be fancy. Blocks and beads are found in almost any elementary grade classroom. They can be used to represent numerals, sets, as an aid in counting, and for basic computation skills of addition and subtraction. Beans and pasta are other favorites for counting and making patterns.

Many manipulatives can be easily made by teachers and even the students themselves:

  • Pieces of colored foam board can be cut into basic geometric shapes or used to represent numbers.
  • Modeling clay can be shaped into spheres, cubes, and pyramids. This helps students understand the difference between two and three planes.
  • White paper plates can be cut into sections as a pie or a pizza to teach fractions.
  • Stickers and stamps can be used for counting and number recognition.
  • Many household items can be used as manipulatives like egg cartons, cotton balls and empty ice cube trays. The empty ice cube trays are excellent for learning one-to-one correspondence.

Math manipulatives help special education students learn by making abstract ideas more concrete. In addition, using manipulatives can make Math class fun and less intimidating. Since manipulatives can be made from almost anything, there really is no excuse for not giving them a try.