This is an NSF-supported project that has developed a library of over 90 interactive, web-based virtual manipulatives that serve as concept tutorials for mathematics instruction (K-8 emphasis), mostly in the form of Java applets. The site provides a multitude of virtual manipulatives for use in the mathematics or mathematics education classroom and with a variety of age and grade levels.
The goal is to learn mathematical concepts with the help of manipulatives that can help students visualize relationships and applications.
Target Student Population:
K-12 students and their teachers, and any inservice or preservice teacher learning to teach mathematics in a hands-on way using manipulatives.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
To use most of these applets effectively requires prior knowledge about their purpose and the types of mathematical problems and concepts they are useful for teaching. It is up to the individual educator to select the proper materials and to demonstrate their use in the classroom.
Type of Material:
Math educators and math teachers will want to use these virtual manipulatives whenever their students can have access to a computer and their goal is interactive mathematical instruction. They could be used to demonstrate in a one-computer classroom when no actual materials are available for student use. They could also be used to enhance a web-based mathematics methods course. Understanding the concepts of mathematics through the use of manipulative materials has long been a goal for mathematics educators. This website provides materials to be used virtually.
To view the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives you must use a web browser with Java enabled. The virtual manipulatives (Java applets) run in most Mac (including Mac OS 10) and Windows operating systems and web browsers. The applets will not run (or experience problems running) in the following web browsers: Mac OS 8.6 and Netscape 6.2.
Evaluation and Observation
This site is extremely comprehensive. There are materials for every age and grade level. It is unlikely that any classroom would have the breadth of materials available on this site. This website provides over 90 math manipulatives in the form java applets to teach important mathematical concepts for students in PK-12 in the areas of numbers and operations, algebra, geometry, measurement, and data analysis and probability. The number of manipulatives available for teaching number and operations is the largest. Many of the virtual manipulatives have a link to suggested activities and lesson ideas but not all. Each manipulative is linked to the relevant NCTM standards where additional information is provided about what the goals are for teaching and what the expectations are for student learning.
Many of the suggested activities, the virtual manipulatives, and the level of mathematics for PK-2 age students are too difficult for most children this age. However, the fact that they are placed in this category means that children who are ready to be challenged will be able to use them.
The materials require that a trained educator decide when and how to use them.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
The potential uses of the virtual manipulatives are limitless. Instructors need only to explore, develop their lesson plans, and send their students to this site. Some of the manipulatives have a link to suggested activities and lesson ideas for teachers and parents, although not all.
Some of the instructions do not match exactly to the virtual manipulatives, are incomplete, or not understandable. Not all the virtual manipulatives have examples of activities showing how to use them. Not every manipulative has a Parent/Teacher link to provide information about the objectives,
ways to use the manipulative (called a lesson plan), extensions, assessment ideas, materials needed to support problem solving, and cross references to other manipulatives. This is evidently purposeful because these pages used to say under construction.
It would be wonderful if teachers could have a way to add their own lesson plans to this site, thus contributing to a growing database of student-tested lessons that use these virtual manipulatives.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
The manipulatives work equally well on both Mac and PC platforms. Navigation in this site is simple and consistent using the icons at the top of the screen. It is easy to get back to the matrix showing the categories and grade levels for the manipulatives at this site. You can also link directly to a manipulative by using the appropriate URL, which will be very helpful for teachers designing lesson plans that link to and use a particular manipulative. There is a search feature that allows any user to find the applets available for most K-12 topics they might be interested in. In addition the results of the search indicate the appropriate math concepts and grade levels to select from. All of the JAVA applets tested worked quickly and without any glitches on a computer running Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6.0.
The directions for how to use many of the 90 manipulative are not intuitive. Fortunately, most of the manipulatives have a link to Instructions, but not all. Evidently the design for this website was modified based on feedback so that Instructions and ideas for Teachers/Parents that are not yet complete no longer say Under Construction. This is still not an ideal solution. Perhaps Instructions should open up every time,
or the Instructions button should flash so that users know they can get Instructions.
Because of the visual quality of the materials, they might be space hungry on machines with limited memory.
Other Issues and Comments:
This is a fabulous resource for teachers of mathematics and their students. The variety and range of manipulatives are impressive. When teachers who have access to the Internet learn about this, they will be lobbying for every child to have access to a computer!
The site provides the opportunity for students and faculty members alike to access materials which can be used in both online and face-to-face classrooms.