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Using Manipulatives to Teach Decimals

Manipulatives are math games and hands-on activities that get the student´s senses
involved in the learning process. Ideally, manipulatives will aid in the learning process
for auditory, visual and rote learners. Students are able to listen, look, repeat, and
actively participate in the learning process. Math games are ideal for reinforcing and
reviewing the basic concepts.
Teaching decimals can be very challenging. Students often do not realize that decimals
are part of most currency systems, so they are actually seen and used every day. The
following manipulatives can help make the decimal process much easier for everyone:
Use money to show students basic decimals. The Euro, Canadian dollar and U.S.
dollar are all equal to 100 cents. If the dollar or Euro equals one whole, then a ten-cent
coin is equal to one-tenth. A one-cent coin is 1/100th. Students can grasp the basic
decimal place values by thinking in terms of monetary values. Money also makes the
decimals real, instead of just a concept. Some students find it easier to learn math
concepts if there is a real-world use for them.
Use grid (graph) paper to help students visualize the place values. Have
students draw a box that is 10 squares long and 10 squares high. The box is one whole,
and each row or column is one-tenth. Each box, then, represents the hundredth place.
O Have students color in boxes to represent different amounts. For example, they
can color in 3 blocks to see what 0.03 looks like.
O Coloring in the boxes can help students understand addition with decimals. For
example, if they are trying to answer 0.02 + 0.05, they can color in 2 boxes, and
then color in 5 boxes. When they count the number of boxes, they will get 7
hundredths as their answer.
O This can also be used to teach multiplication. For example, if the problem is 0.2
x 0.8, the students can use the blocks to see the answer. The problem is in
tenths, which is a whole row or column. Have the students color 2 rows in blue.
Then have them color 8 columns in red. The number of blocks where the colors
overlap, or the number of purple blocks, will be the answer to the problem. In
this case, it will be 16 blocks. The students have been taught that one block is
equal to 0.01, so 16 blocks would be equal to 0.16.
Use blocks and a balance to demonstrate place values when you start teaching
decimals. . Mark a number "1¨ on the balance. Have blocks labeled 10, 100, 1000, 0.1,
0.01, and 0.001. Place the 10 block on the balance scale in front of the 1. The balance
will tip to that side. Explain that it takes 10 ones to make that block. Then put the 0.1
block on the other side, which will level the scale. Explain that the 1 has ten of those
blocks. Do not emphasize weight or equality with this exercise. Emphasize the value of
ten because that is the base of the decimal system. This lets the students see the
number change on each side of the central 1.
O If you are afraid the balance will be confusing, use only blocks. The important
thing is to show the students the pattern of 10 on each side of the whole
O e a game show host. Math games are a great way to teach. Choose a student
volunteer to play the game, and let them get help from the "audience.¨ For
example, you could do versions of high/low games using decimal numbers. They
earn points by guessing correctly.
O ne version of this game could involve a mountain climber or a train going to the
station. Each correct answer moves them one space forward, while each correct
answer moves them one space back. It takes 5 or 10 correct answers to get to
the end. e sure to set a limit on the number of times a player can answer,
which allows other students to take turns, but make your limit high enough that
they can miss a few and still win.
O When the students are first learning addition, subtraction, multiplication and
division with decimals, you can host a quiz show where you give them the
problem and 4 possible answers.
O Have prizes for the students. They don´t have to be big. A snack-size candy bar
or a sucker is great for elementary students, especially if they can eat them in
class. Pencils, erasers, and small notepads are excellent options, too. e sure to
have parting gifts for students who do not win. That encourages them to keep
trying their best.
O Encourage students to use Math games online.
Remember that decimals are something students are exposed to every day. nce they
grasp the concept, there will be ample time and opportunity to practice. f course,
grasping the concept is much easier if you make the subject fun. Manipulatives make
the subject fun, which makes students want to learn.

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