Degree Name

Education Specialist (EdS)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Donald W. Smitley


Since the publication of "Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics" by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in 1989, mathematics pedagogy has shifted from the standard memorization of facts and processes to concept development and application. Teachers have been encouraged to utilize manipulatives to help students bridge the gap between concrete and abstract mathematical concepts. This study was conducted to determine if grade level impacted the frequency with which manipulatives were used, to examine teacher perceptions of eleven factors associated with the frequency of utilization of math manipulatives, and to assess the perceived effect of teaching with manipulatives on the mathematics achievement of public school students in grades kindergarten through four.

The study took place during the 1997-98 school year, using a survey of kindergarten through fourth grade teachers whose schools were located in Area IV of the Regional Offices of Education, which covers east-central Illinois. Of 187 teachers who were sent a survey, 113 returned it for a response rate of 60%.

Kindergarten and first grade teachers reported using manipulatives more frequently than teachers in grades two, three, and four. Every respondent in grades kindergarten, one, and two reported using manipulatives at least once a week. Frequency of usage fell dramatically after second grade. Ninety-eight percent of teachers indicated that the use of math manipulatives had a positive impact on increasing student achievement, while 97% indicated they believed the use of manipulatives was vital to student understanding. Of the eleven factors examined, teachers perceived the following to impact the frequency with which they utilized manipulatives: the amount of time involved in teaching the lesson, the amount of time in planning the lesson, class size, classroom management issues, and the need for additional assistance during manipulative-based instruction. Seventy-five percent of teachers perceived that manipulatives were integrated into their current curriculum. Fifty-seven percent of teachers indicated that their districts provided all of the manipulatives they needed, while 54% indicated that the personal expense of providing manipulative materials did not limit their use. Ninety-two percent of administrators and 75% of parents were perceived by teachers as being supportive. Eighty-five percent of teachers indicated their level of training in using manipulatives was adequate.

Recommendations as a result of the study included establishing teacher committees to determine a minimum level of manipulatives required at each grade level, and a district commitment to provide financial resources for the basic supply; enlisting parent volunteers to assist during manipulative-based instruction; and establishing a procedure in each district by which teachers could choose to utilize a manipulative-based approach in place of the district textbook adoption. It was also recommended that further research be conducted to assess the impact of class size on the frequency of utilization, and that a study be undertaken which compares academic achievement of students who receive mathematics instruction through a manipulative-based approach to that of students instructed through the traditional, textbook driven curriculum.