Manipulatives and multiplicative thinking
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This small study sought to determine students’ knowledge of multiplication and division and whether they are able to use sets of bundling sticks to demonstrate their knowledge. Manipulatives are widely used in primary and some middle school classrooms, and can assist children to connect multiplicative concepts to physical representations. Qualitative data were generated from semi-structured interviews with 32 primary and middle school children aged nine to eleven years. Participants were asked to work out the answer to multiplication and division examples and explain their thinking using bundling sticks. Results suggest that the majority of participant students may have a limited knowledge of aspects of the multiplication process and even less knowledge of the division process. The study also identified that many of the students appeared uncomfortable and/or unfamiliar with using bundling sticks and a number of them had difficulty in using bundling sticks to explain the multiplication and division processes. We conclude that manipulatives such as bundling sticks do not magically lead children to mathematical learning but are sufficiently powerful to warrant teachers familiarising themselves with how manipulatives can be used to develop conceptual understanding.
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