A study on the use of manual and virtual manipulatives to support 5th grade student learning of fractions

This study investigates the use of manual and virtual manipulatives, in order to gain a better understanding of the impact of their use by 5th grade students learning fraction concepts. Manipulatives are often used during classroom experiences to reinforce abstract concepts and provide deeper understanding. For this study, students were exposed to both manual and virtual manipulatives in order to develop an understanding of how each supported student understanding and attitudes. The evident success of using manipulatives in improving student's understanding of fractions was apparent based on improved scores on a posttest. Most students benefitted from the use of both types ofmanipulatives, whether they were manual or virtual. Therefore, both virtual and manual manipulatives were found to support student learning of concepts related to addition of fractions. Based on a survey and teacher observations, students were found to have positive attitudes towards the use of both manipulatives as well. Particular attention was paid to the use of virtual manipulatives in the study due to the newness of this resource. Virtual manipulatives were found to support the learning of fractions by aiding in the visual representation and because the technology enabled students to concentrate on the conceptual knowledge and not computation. Virtual manipulatives also gave second language learners a way to express their thinking and understanding of patterns. KEYWORDS: mathematics, fractions, attitudes, denominators, manipulatives, virtual