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May 26 2016 - 08:00 PM
Making Math Manipulable

The road from reality to abstract concepts can be terribly tiresome for tots. Concrete objects and whole numbers are easy to navigate in academic infancy, but arithmetic abstractions are a little trickier. Virtual Manipulatives is an app that helps youth incorporate more tangible elements into their exploration of simplified mathematical learning. It smooths their journey into the complex world of math, and allows them to have a little bit of fun in the process.


Virtual Manipulatives helps kids learn how decimals, fractions, and percentages relate to one another by combining visual elements like colored bars of different lengths. This allows youngsters to visually understand these concepts without having to pull out antiquated learning tools like cuisenaire rods and old-school mathematics manipulatives.

The homepage is a breeze to navigate with hand-drawn arrows directing kids through the app’s functionalities. Users are allowed to upload photos (although I’m not sure why), draw their own numbers with a pencil tool, drag and drop numerical elements, and arrange them along their workspace. Decimals, fractions, and percentages have similar sizes and colors to give users a welcome hint as to their equivalency. For example, the 1/4 fraction is equal to the percentage 25% and the decimal .25, and each is colored red. This makes arithmetic understanding a whole lot clearer in this virtual world.

Dragging around fraction bars from the drawer to the workspace gives you a satisfying drum sound as you connect decimals, fractions, and percentages to one another. A useful feature is the ability to press and hold a fraction to see its equivalent, which could be useful for very young number crunchers. There is plenty of wide open work space on the screen for messing around with math and altering the size, color and transparency of shapes. These settings provide more virtual options for playing with numbers than kids would have with traditional early math tools like blocks.


Because of the overwhelming number of elements, it may take a little while to figure out how to manipulate Virtual Manipulatives or what its purpose is. For example, although it would seem to make sense that you could perform simple calculations (e.g., 25% + 25% = 50%), this is not allowed. It is less of a cool calculating app with a neat interface and more a visual way to show equivalent relationships. In essence, the individual functions are easier to understand than the sum of the parts.

Our Takeaway:

Although national numeracy levels have increased, apps that help kids have fun with mathematics are important in developing a love for STEM subjects. Although Virtual Manipulatives will help very young learners understand equivalencies between basic decimals, fractions, and percentages, it unfortunately allows them to do little else. As such, parents may want to drop a higher fraction of their disposable income on a higher functioning app to help their kids develop an even deeper understanding of the arithmetic relationships with decimals and percentages than what is offered by this quality free app.

Image: Math Manipulatives by Martha T via Flickr
Posted in: New Learning TimesEdTech Review|By: Dino Sossi|494 Reads