Using virtual manipulatives to develop conceptual understanding of mathematics

Virtual manipulatives were used as an intervention tool between assessments to determine, through quantitative and qualitative data, their effect on developing conceptual understanding of mathematics. Fourth grade elementary students were selected to participate in this case study. The students were exposed to virtual manipulatives designed to develop an understanding of time, coordinates, the conversion of fractions, and the difference between area and perimeter. Furthermore, this study investigated barriers that students come across when using virtual manipulatives. Finally, this study reviewed the characteristics of virtual manipulatives to determine which types are more effective than others. The results from this study indicated that virtual manipulatives were successful in developing the participants’ understanding of the mathematical concepts. Barriers to using virtual manipulatives came in the form of reading comprehension as opposed to technical problems that can occur when utilizing technology. Students had little difficulty using the virtual manipulatives; however, lower level students had difficulty reading the grade level text that was associated with them. Finally, the study indicated that the most effective virtual manipulative was engaging and simple to use. Keywords: virtual manipulatives, mathematics, conceptual understanding, core standards.