App review by Adirondack AccessAbility Inc., Common Sense Education | Updated January 2014
Virtual Manipulatives!
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Virtual Manipulatives!

No-frills tool helps make abstract math concepts more concrete

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Editorial review by Common Sense Education
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Pros: The trial-and-error manipulations help kids visualize how fractions, decimals, and percentages work.

Cons: Without instructional supports and more engagement, the app's appeal and learning value is somewhat limited.

Bottom Line: A solid concept for teaching and explaining abstract math concepts, the app requires teacher guidance in order to effectively reach all learners.

For a novel use of the app, teachers might want to project their own Virtual Manipulatives app onto a classroom screen to explain equivalencies (showing students how to use the app in the process). For instance, in this type of whole-class use, teachers could challenge students to come up with possible equivalencies for a named fraction. 

Because the app may take some practice to use, it's best to support kids with an initial demonstration of how to navigate the app, as well as a brief lesson in equivalency and conversions (if they haven't learned this already). Later on, as a warm-up activity, teachers could display a pre-made equation for kids to solve as they come into class.

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The Virtual Manipulatives app is designed to help students better understand some foundational, yet often abstract, mathematical concepts. The app offers visualizations of fractions, decimals and percents to help students conceptualize how the three concepts work, relating visual depictions with their numeric expressions.

Users will arrange bar-shaped blocks or pie shaped pieces to represent different parts of a whole, while also comparing equivalencies and conversions. The app shows equivalent statements when items are clicked on which allow the user to pull out other frames for comparison. Students select bars (or pie pieces) from a menu, and drag them to the board; from there, they're free to arrange them in any way they'd like to help aid in visualization. Any page can be saved to the device's photo album.

Virtual Manipulatives has a focused purpose: to help learners visually understand the relationships among percentages, fractions, and decimals. Kids who've used similar fraction bars/tiles at school will probably know how to use the app, and may find it to be a great homework helper. However, for most kids new to the concept, it's likely that you'll need to explain the how and why for using this tool before they'll get much out of it. It's a pretty simple tool -- teachers will need to design lessons and tasks that students can use in order to cement learning.

While the app is fairly user friendly, navigation could be slightly more intuitive. Also, manipulating the bars and pie pieces could be a bit easier, especially for students without as much dexterity. Kids may need help to understand how to manipulate the selection tabs, and the bars and circles. After the initial learning curve, kids should be able to snap boxes together and line them up to convert percentages, fractions, and decimals with independence. Through visual representations, kids with a variety of learning styles can get a better sense of how these concepts work. And as a free app, it makes a good addition to your math apps collection.

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

Although rather basic, the app is well designed and colorful. Once kids understand how to use the tool, they're likely to enjoy using it.

Pedagogy Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

Just like real-life manipulatives, the visual representations can help kids build a more concrete understanding of some challenging concepts.

Support Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

Simple directions help kids navigate the app, but there isn't any real instructional support for students or teachers.

Common Sense reviewer
Adirondack AccessAbility Inc. Assistive Technology Consultants & Trainers

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Featured review by
Eva H. , Technology coordinator
Technology coordinator
great way to "see" the connection between fractions, decimals, and percents
I really like this app. Its hard to visualize how 1/2, 0.5, and 5% all connect in your head. This app gives you something to look at and manipulate. Students will get the opportunity to practice the identification of the three. Students can also use the manipulatives and white space area to explore adding and subtracting simple fractions, decimals, and percents.
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