Monday, March 07, 2005

Virtual Manipulatives

This past Tuesday our school had its first annual (hopefully) family math night. 15 families (a good turnout for our school) rotated through six stations, each lasting 15 minutes, learning about state indicators through interactive activities.

From the time the idea for a family math night was pitched, I knew that I wanted my station to involve the use of technology. But it wasn't until about a week from the big night that I decided on using virtual manipulatives. What a wonderful choice!

Virtual manipulatives weren't something I had used in my classroom before. I'm too busy using blogs, flickr, and discussion forums to find time for them. Nevertheless, I decided that I would teach transformations using the manipulatives from the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives. This site is loaded with manipulatives spanning all grade levels and areas of math like geometry, algebra, number operations, data analysis, and measurement. Each manipulative comes with instructions, a lesson guide for parents and teachers, and challenges.

At my station, I instructed my students on the three most important transformations for this age group--translations, rotations, and reflections. With the virtual manipulatives, the kids were able to transform the shapes and see the results. This is powerful stuff, considering that textbooks only offer students a before and after image, there is no movement.

In my search for the perfect activity, I came across other sites with virtual manipulatives:
Although I am now sold on virtual manipulatives, I do have some recommendations for their use. Using these in class requires a great deal of advance preparation. You must know EXACTLY what each one does and have a list of questions ready to ask students as you teach. I had the benefit of using a projection system so that students could see what it was I was asking them to do. I can't imagine trying to teach a lesson using virtual manipulatives without one.

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