Math Manipulative Must-Haves for the Classroom

Kids learn by doing, which is why manipulatives are perfect tools for teaching and reinforcing math concepts. They are useful for hands-on, small group activities; and for letting students explore and develop reasoning and problem-solving skills.

The best math manipulatives allow students to build connections between mathematical ideas and hands on activities.  They make math FUN!  As a tutor,  with many years of experience incorporating math manipulatives into my lessons, I appreciate how useful they are in helping me teach different math concepts.  I enjoy watching children have “lightbulb” moments when they finally understand a concept thanks to the tools they are using.  Manipulatives are useful in many ways, and come with several benefits.

1) They engage students, and increase interest in and enjoyment of mathematics as a whole—Students who were given the opportunity to use manipulatives have reported that they were more interested in math.

2) They build long-term interest in mathematics, which translates to increased mathematical abilityThey use concrete objects to observe, model, and internalize abstract concepts easily.

3)  They are a powerful tool for classroom assessment and reduce the achievement gap while raising performance levelsProblem-solving, patience, critical thinking, creativity, concentration, and more are just some of the skills that can be achieved.  Students are more capable and competent when they regularly use manipulatives.  It’s a chance for them to become independent thinkers.


Dice are a great tool to have on hand for math games and activities. There are many types available today, such as these dice in many colors. There are also different sized dice available, such as these large foam dice. Jumbo dice are great for rolling during a class game.  They are also great for “flashng” to kids to have them call out the number shown. We suggest putting pairs of dice into small clear containers that students can quickly grab and shake while playing games. My favorite type of dice for teaching addition and playing games are the dice in dice.


Playing Cards

Playing cards make useful math tools because they have numbers on them. They are used to teach addition and subtraction through games like addition “war” and subtraction “war”. Playing cards are in traditional decks that you can find at most stores or dollar stores. Teachers would benefit from a set of jumbo playing cards to use for lessons and demonstrations as they provide a large visual for kids.


Unifix or Snap Cubes

Unifix cubes are the colored cubes that connect in one way and snap cubes are colored cubes that can connect in different ways. Both can be used in many ways to teach many math concepts, such as patterning, place value, and measurement. Snap cubes are one of the most used math manipulatives. They visually demonstrate many number concepts, such as counting, grouping, adding, and taking away. Children love snapping the cubes together to make number “trains”.


Hundreds Charts

Hundreds charts are important for teaching children to count to 100 in multiple ways. They are visual representations of numbers in order and are filled with patterns that children should be encouraged to find. Hundreds charts are important for whole-class lessons, independent practice, and games. My most used anchor chart on my wall is a hundreds chart, similar to this. We use these durable hundreds boards frequently. I also recommend having a mini hundreds chart visible on student work-spaces. These nameplates also have a ruler, number line, and addition table on them.


Place Value Blocks

Place value blocks are very helpful in teaching counting, number concepts, double-digit addition and subtraction. These concepts are more difficult to grasp and using these concrete manipulatives helps build understanding. We suggest have a large bin of of place value blocks similar to those below with enough for each student to represent the numbers you are learning. The magnetic set would be helpful for whole class demonstrations on a whiteboard. If you are teaching PreK or Kindergarten, consider introducing place value during calendar time with this counting pocket chart and straws.


Demonstration Clock

When teaching concepts of time and the analog clock, using a large demo clock is a valuable tool. We love this clock because as you move the minute hand around the hour hand moves appropriately, which helps with teaching the placement of the hands. It also shows the 12 hours and the minutes around the outside. Encourage children to count by fives as the minute hand moves around the clock.  They will learn that there are 60 minutes in one rotation of the hour hand. Provide children with their own small clocks, such as these, to practice with. To reinforce these skills, having a clock puzzle available is helpful.


Places You Can Purchase Math Manipulatives

We suggest buying the majority of your items when they go on sale or when you can purchase them at affordable prices through Amazon. Each type of manipulative listed above is linked to Amazon to help you create your classroom wishlist. You can sign up for Amazon Prime and get all of your materials quickly, no matter what the weight of your package.

There are many local places to purchase math manipulatives for low prices. Get creative and have fun searching for materials in your home or find them at the dollar store.

Sphero—A New Ball Game


image001Sphero is an app-enabled toy and designed by a company formerly known as Orbotix.  Intelligent and well-rounded, Sphero lets students play, learn, and explore by creating obstacle courses and creating multifamily games.  It is also waterproof, pet-proof, and ready for any adventure.


This globe is charged wirelessly from its own charging base, and is covered with polycarbonate synthetic material.  It is also manipulated using a tablet or Smartphone that runs on Android, iOS or Windows Phone through Bluetooth.


Features of Sphero

Some of the major features of Sphero are:

  1. Bluetooth – It operates on apps. It connects to mobile gadgets such as  iPhones, Android phones, iPads and tablets via Bluetooth wireless network.
  2. The range of colors –It is covered with a polycarbonate synthetic material, and sheds light in any color.
  3. Rolling capability –It rolls at a fixed speed within a specified time frame.


To use Sphero, you can take it off its charger and tap it twice and fast so that it “comes alive.”  As soon as the robot toy wakes, it begins to flash three different colors sequentially.  Once it pairs with a Bluetooth device, it turns blue to signify that it is ready for use. It can travel on land and moves sluggishly on water. It comes integrated with an accelerometer and vibrates quietly.


What’s even more clever about the Sphero though are the apps that you can use it with. Orbotix has not only made around 10 of its own – mostly-free apps – available for download from the iTunes App Store and Google Play, but it’s also giving game developers a chance to come up with their own thanks to a Full API and Mobile SDK.

You can even have a stab at programming the Sphero yourself – thanks to a free Orbotix app called Sphero Macrolab (iOS / Google Play), giving it geek appeal aplenty.


Sphero and STEM

Educators in various fields find ways of incorporating the robot in their every-day classes. Sphero is an excellent tool for teaching the sciences, and subjects related to engineering and technology. 


Sphero also has a SPRK (school parents robots kids) edition designed to spark kids interest in coding and robotics.  Children can use the simplified code to make this edutoy do things like weave in and out of a complex maze or perform a dance. When students use the app and write the code, they can see the simplified language of the code or the more complex syntax. This gives educators an excellent opportunity to teach programming.



SPRK’s approachable lesson plans empower parents and teachers to excite kids, so it’s no wonder that over 4,500 teachers in 20 countries have used SPRK to teach 90,000 students. While kids instantly gravitate to Sphero, SPRK students range from elementary school through high school grades.


Sphero breaks the rules about learning, and also enables students to mesh mathematics with technology.  It strengthens the STEM skills that students will need to compete in the tech industry.  The gadget geek in your life will enjoy being the first person on the block to have a remote control ball they can drive with their mobile device, which is why it was rated one of the top ten best Christmas gifts.