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Why and when to use Math-U-See manipulatives

Our Math-U-See curriculum uses three manipulative kits between Primer and Algebra 1

The Integer Block Kit is used for levels PrimerAlgebra 1. The Fraction Overlay Kit is added in Epsilon to specifically teach fractions, and the Algebra/Decimal Insert Kit is added to the Integer Block Kit in the Zeta level and used for the Zeta, Pre-Algebra, and Algebra 1 levels. 

Why do we choose to base the foundation of math concepts on this intentional use of manipulatives?  

Experience has shown that mathematical learning firmly grounded in a mastery-based manipulative experience has a powerful impact on student achievement. Students who regularly use manipulatives understand concepts in a concrete and visual way, different than their peers who do not use manipulatives. The mental images your student develops from the manipulatives can serve as an important bridge to mastery of said concepts as they move from the concrete (manipulatives) to the abstract (formula), and they are likely to remember the concepts better, too.

How do we know when to use the manipulatives?

In Math-U-See clues are provided as to when manipulative use is essential, optional, or should be avoided.

  1. The video lesson—if the manipulatives are being used in the presentation of the lesson, it is an indication that they should be used in the teaching, exploration, and mastery process of the lesson.
  2. Graphics of the manipulatives are seen in the Instruction Manual for the lessons that use them.
  3. Instructions on the worksheets and tests will typically guide you regarding the anticipated use of manipulatives through the wording: 
    • “Build, Write, Say” would indicate that manipulatives are to be used for those problems.   
    • Instructions saying, “Solve for the unknown. Use the blocks if needed,” would leave that option to the student. 
    • Simply seeing a direction to “Solve” signals that the concept should be mastered at this point and the student is able to solve with just the written formula.

Usually the initial teaching of a concept will involve use of the manipulatives, and students can feel free to use them on the Lesson Practice pages. By the time you are doing the Systematic review pages, students should not be needing or using the blocks. They should never be using the blocks on the lesson test, unit tests, or the final exam.  

Related Articles & Blog Posts

Math Manipulatives Aren’t Just for “Little Kids”
How to Use the Math-U-See Manipulatives
From Math Manipulatives to Mastery
Addressing Hesitations About Manipulatives

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