Inside a kindergarten classroom with Augustana students

Old-Fashioned Manipulatives or New Technology?

Last week with the kindergarteners, I spent most of the time working on their number sense by using manipulatives. During the previous week, some of the students had completed an activity with number cards and marbles, in which students select a number card, say the number printed on the card, and show that number of marbles. Higher ability students also were asked what one or two more or less than a certain number was in this activity, a concept that helps set the foundation for addition and subtraction. The classroom teacher and I realized how flexible this activity was, so we decided it could be used for all ability levels in the class. I adapted the activity for lower ability levels by using only cards with the numbers 1-10 on them and not advancing to the more challenging concept of taking away or adding marbles. For the higher ability students, the numbers 11-20 or higher were used, and the students were asked questions about one or two more and less, in order to fit their higher skill levels. This flexibility, and the ability to assess students’ counting, number recognition, and more/less understanding, make this a valuable activity for each of the students to complete before moving on to more challenging concepts using different manipulatives or available technological resources.

The number card and marbles activity assesses some of the same skills in students as the Count/Sort game on the iPods and computers. Both activities test students’ counting skills with any set of numbers between 1 and 30 depending on ability level; Count/Sort has students count virtual chips on the computer or iPod screen, while the more hands-on marbles activity allows students to physically count the correct number of marbles. For this skill, students may have a slight advantage learning by counting marbles because they give the student actual manipulatives to physically count and organize, which is more difficult to do with the computer mouse or touch-screen iPod. Each of these activities also gives students a chance to demonstrate their number recognition abilities, but the activity using manipulatives is far more accurate and successful in assessing this skill. Count/Sort only gives students two numbers to recognize after counting the chips, so it is easy for almost all students to correctly guess the number, even if they do not know which number it actually is. This limits their ability to show their skills in number recognition, but starting the marbles activity by recognizing the number on the card accurately shows if students can recognize any number between 1 and 20, or even higher. Finally, teaching students the concpet of more or less is much more successful with marbles, where the students can physically add or take away from a certain number, than it is in Count/Sort, where students have to imagine a chip being added to or taken away from the chips seen on the screen. Between these two relatively similar activities, the hands-on manipulatives seem to be the more successful learning material, but we will be comparing the advantages of several other manipulatives and computer programs throughout the year with these kindergarteners.

One Response to “Old-Fashioned Manipulatives or New Technology?”

  1. that’s why we have so many manipulatives in kindergarten! Wish you were there the day two boys knocked over the little 3 tiered shelf of bins and all of that little stuff spilled out……….what a mess!

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