How can teachers help students better understand numbers, number systems, relationships among numbers, operations and relations, computation, and estimation? Many grade 3-5 students are still mastering these skills, which are covered by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) numbers and operations standard. Researchers have found that screen-based manipulatives may be one way to assist students in learning this content. Below are some examples of the research that has been done with screen-based manipulatives.
Only one of the following examples (Moreno & Duran, 2004) used a research design that provides unambiguous evidence that the intervention led to better student achievement. However, it is important to be aware of the types of educational technology practices that are available, then judge for yourself whether or not any of these practices are useful.
Moreno & Duran (2004) wanted to see how the achievement level of fifth- and sixth-grade students would be affected by the use of an interactive discovery-based multimedia game. Sixty-one fifth- and sixth-grade students who had little prior knowledge of the addition and subtraction of signed numbers were randomly assigned to use an interactive multimedia game. Some students received verbal guidance from a teacher; others did not. The game was designed to teach the students about adding and subtracting signed integers. The authors found that students who participated in the verbal guidance group had significantly higher scores than students who did not receive verbal guidance. In addition, the level of the students' computer experience appeared to play a role—children who had more prior computer experience and who also participated in the verbal interaction group scored higher than all other students. This study suggests that a discovery-based multimedia game where students use a simulated joystick to move a bunny up and down a number line—in combination with adult guidance—is effective in increasing children's mathematics achievement.
In another study, Reimer & Moyer (2005) were interested in finding out if virtual manipulatives could help students with their conceptual and procedural mathematics knowledge (learning fractions). Nineteen third-grade students, including special education and gifted students, used virtual manipulatives over a two-week period in their classroom. Following the intervention, students completed a procedural test, a conceptual test, and an attitude survey. Although the virtual manipulatives did not appear to significantly improve students' knowledge, students liked the virtual manipulatives, finding them helpful, easy to use, and contributing to an engaging learning environment. Unfortunately, the individual results for the special education and gifted students were not reported; however, the teacher commented that those students did better than she thought they would.
In a final example of using screen-based manipulatives to affect student outcomes, Wisniewski & Smith (2002) engaged third- and fourth-grade students in using Touch Math 20 minutes a day for 14 weeks to determine how the students' addition skills would be affected. All of the students had disabilities (including mild mental retardation, learning disability, or health impairments) and all of the children received special education services in a resource room on a daily basis. Every student took a "mad minute addition test" before the intervention started, and on a weekly basis throughout the 14-week intervention period. Graphs of the students' scores on the weekly mad minute tests suggested that Touch Math helped students improve their academic achievement. Additionally, students generally needed less time to complete the tests over time.
Moreno, R., & Duran, R. (2004). Do multiple representations need explanations? The role of verbal guidance and individual differences in multimedia mathematics learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(3), 492-503.
Reimer, K. & Moyer, P (2005). Third-graders learn about fractions using virtual manipulatives : A classroom study. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 24(1), 5-25.
Wisniewski, Z., & Smith, D. (2002). How effective is touch math for improving students with special needs academic achievement on math addition mad minute timed tests? Indiana University South Bend. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED469445).