Encouraging Use of Manipulatives in High School Math Classrooms

By Char Shryock

Stop in and observe an elementary math lessons and you might see students using manipulatives to help them model their thinking and test out their strategies.  HS math classrooms look much different.  Students may have a graphing calculator as a tool but often are lacking opportunities to use manipulatives to model their thinking or derive meaning.

I recently attended the Ohio Council of Teachers of Math (OCTM) state conference.  Teachers were sharing digital tools that support HS math students.  One website that was shared is Desmos.com. After creating a free login, teachers can add a class and access math tasks with embedded opportunities to model mathematical thinking collaboratively.  I tried the Giant Alligator Investigation.  Here is the task description, An enormous alligator lurks in the swamp. Can scatterplots and least-squares regression tell you if you have enough animal tranquilizer to stay safe?”  I really liked that the lesson starts with students making predictions, plotting predictions on a graph, then looking at actual data, making more predictions, and then using calculations to make a recommendation on how to handle the alligator.  Desmos also has Quadratic, Exponential, Modeling, Functions and Linear bundled lessons.

The NCTM Illuminations website also has a number of digital manipulative tools that are appropriate for algebra and geometry students.  One of my favorite manipulatives is the digital algebra tiles.  The algebra tiles tool presents the student with a problem to solve, positive/negative number tiles, and variable tiles to use to model an answer.  Other interactive manipulatives include geometric solids, an interactive calculus tool, and a line of best fit graphing tool.  All tools are searchable by grade level and standard strand. 

Don’t have access to technology in your classroom? Here is a template for creating your own algebra tiles for your students to use. 

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