Exploring the use of mathematics manipulative materials: is it what we think it is?
Edith Cowan University
Faculty of Education and Arts
School of Education / Fogarty Learning Centre
The use of mathematics manipulative materials such as counters and Base Ten Blocks is common in many Australian classrooms. Seemingly there is an unchallenged assumption that the use of manipulative materials in the teaching of mathematics is a key to learning about mathematics concepts, and this is supported by the mathematics manipulatives industry. Teachers who are time poor and under pressure are either looking for a miracle manipulative to solve all their problems with teaching a particular topic such as fractions, or have abandoned the use of manipulatives in favour of textbooks. This paper reports on a survey and follow-up interviews designed to explore key issues in the use of mathematics manipulative materials in the teaching of mathematics. It also reports on the collaboration between Edith Cowan University, the Independent School sector in Western Australia and R.I.C. Publications, an international publisher and supplier of mathematics manipulative materials based in Western Australia. The aim was to look into the state of play of the use of mathematics manipulative materials in primary schools in Western Australia. To this end, a survey was sent to all teachers in primary and designated middle schools in Western Australia (Pre-Primary to Year Ten; ages 4 – 14), providing us with an initial insight into their use. Further evidence based on a comprehensive literature review, school visits, interviews and teacher workshops is used to review the current state of play as to the use of mathematics manipulative materials in classrooms and to respond to issues raised in the surveys and interviews. This paper compares the data obtained from the survey and interviews.