Virtual manipulatives are visual objects on the computer screen that the student can manipulate through mouse clicks, or through drag-and-drop movements, which moves or modifies that visual object in some way.
The learning process comes from the student observing the behavior of the object and then understanding how and why it changes the way it does after being manipulated. This "understanding" makes up the learning process through virtual manipulatives.
Main Page of Glencoe Manipulatives
When you first access the Glencoe virtual manipulatives tool, it looks a lot like a paint or drawing application. At the bottom you'll find multiple tools you can use to draw such as the pen tool or the text tool. There's also a color palette, which you'd expect in a paint program.
However, the first sign of something different is the fact that this toolbar also includes a ruler, a stopwatch, a protractor and a timer. In the left menu bar, you'll find options to select a grade, background graphics, or a choice of manipulatives.
Choosing a Grade
Once you choose the grade level, the other two menu items adjust accordingly to only include the choices that are age appropriate. The Backgrounds menu item includes Game Boards, Story Boards and Workmats. Each of these three backgrounds represents an environment within which the student can manipulate objects and learn.
Choosing a Background
The variety of choices in each of these options is impressive. Once you start using this tool, it's difficult to believe that it's absolutely free. Game board backgrounds include choices like Finding Shapes, Leap Frog or Surf's Up. Story Boards include things like Baseball Diamond, Box Ten-Frame or Chalkboard.
Workmats are simply layouts that teach different lessons, including Black Calendar, Part-Part-Whole and Horizontal Split. Many of these titles have little meaning until you open it up and start "manipulating." The purpose of each choice quickly becomes apparent.
Boat for Bears
Each manipulative starts off with a screen that requires the student to grab objects and drag them onto the work "mat." The goal is to learn and understand what makes each object behave a certain way. The procedure is about as simple as it can get, click on, move and otherwise try to manipulate the objects and learn from how it changes.
Boat for Bears in Use
First, dragging each of the objects onto the mat doesn't seem to do much at all. Even dragging each bear on top of the other does nothing. However, once you drag the boat onto the mat and start clicking on it, it quickly becomes apparent that this particular manipulative requires the Kindergarten student to correctly place each bear over a seat.
Boats for Bears Sitting
When they do, the bear then sits on the seat and faces the front of the boat. While this may seem like a simple concept, it's important to understand that virtual manipulatives are tied closely to the developmental stages of the chosen age group, and for a Kindergarten student this is an appropriate lesson with colors, images and an method to organize and order the bears on the boat.
Base Ten Blocks
As you choose higher grade levels, the objects and behaviors become a bit more complex. For example the Base Ten blocks teach the student about Base Ten values. How does this work when the screen simply starts with a cube filled with smaller cubes? Well, all you have to do to find out is click on the box at the lower corner of the cube.
Manipulating Base Ten
As you can see, this splits the cube into 10 smaller pieces, also made up of smaller cubes. Click again on one of these sections, and it breaks up into 10 smaller pieces. Click each of these objects and it also gets broken into 10 more pieces, until you are down to the smallest possible unit.
Breaking Down Base Ten Blocks
You can even place units back together, move them around the screen, break apart some units and leave others intact. The goal of such an activity online is to recognize through interacting with the object that it splits into the base ten of the original number of elements.
There are all sorts of interactive objects that you can alter, rotate, resize or otherwise modify in order to cause some sort of reaction to the behavior or appearance of the object. For example, in "Bucket Balance," the student places weights of various size into the buckets on each side of a scale, which rises or falls accordingly.
While using imagery or interactive animation as part of any learning process is a fairly new concept in education, more teachers and educators are realizing that the approach has many benefits, particularly for disabled or developmentally challenged children. Virtual manipulatives can serve as a powerful tool in any teacher's educational toolbox.
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