Math Manipulatives in Middle School

Most teachers are very comfortable using manipulatives with their youngest students. However, fewer and fewer manipulatives are utilized as students enter middle school, and rote memorization of rules becomes the focus. Yet, Middle School Learners benefit from the use of manipulatives just as much as younger students do. Students find that decimals, fractions and integers are significantly different from the whole numbers they have worked with up to this point. Manipulatives help students explore these new concepts, communicate their thoughts, share examples and truly understand mathematics. Below are three manipulatives every middle school math teacher should be utilizing to help her/his students reach their full potential.  (Pic: Cusinaire Rods in a Staircase Arrangement;  In Wikipedia.  Retrieved March 26, 2013 from http://

Base-Ten Blocks – Yes, everyone uses base-ten blocks (units [1], longs [10] and flats [100]) with primary students to help them learn place value, counting and operations.

However, base-ten blocks are the perfect tool to teach decimal places as well. Simply reversing the value of each piece (flats [1]; rods [ ]; units [ ]) allows students to explore smaller numbers in a hands-on fashion.

Fraction Towers– Fraction towers are possibly the best manipulative for middle school students. Fractions are often the most challenged of all middle school math concepts, usually because students do not understand fractions. They are taught to memorize rules, which make no sense to them. Towers allow students to easily compare fractions and complete various operations. Working with fractions in a concrete, visual and hands-on way makes fractions less intimidating for students.

Color Chips – Color chips are most often used for statistics and data analysis topics. They are wonderful tools for those topics. However, another great way to use them is with integers. The red side is negative, while the yellow side is positive. You can even take a permanent marker and draw + and – signs on the chips. Students can model adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing using the chips.

You don’t always need to have the physical materials. Visit the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives at: to see online versions of these and many other math manipulatives.

And for more of our Fun Learning Math Games, you can visit here:


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