Mathematical instruction is important in student education. In the modern society, mathematics plays a critical role in solving problems. Therefore, competency as adults in the workplace is hard to attain unless the learners understand the core mathematical concepts such as reasoning and functionality. The teachers should enforce these foundational ideals at an early age using right learning tools. As learning technology advances, the educators have to adapt the latest tools such as virtual manipulatives and educational games for effectiveness. For instance, learners that initially failed algebra tests score better after using virtual manipulatives. Given that educational games and virtual manipulatives require an exertion of physical actions, the students enhance their understanding and memory.
The research is important in the mathematical field since it entails learning with a focus on deciphering its important objective. Moreover, virtual manipulatives and educational games allow hands-on, concrete representation and exploration of mathematical concepts. It is interesting that despite the conviction of teachers that virtual manipulatives and educational games are essential, numerous studies regard them as non-beneficial. Even as the debate continues, NCTM (the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) has endorsed the application of Information Technology to boost learning.
Since the utilization of educational games and virtual manipulatives in learning is still at an early stage, research on their effectiveness is inconclusive. Yet, the incorporation of the two contributes significantly to students’ success. Studies also suggest that the acceptance of virtual manipulatives and educational games by both the learners and teachers increase as they advance from one grade to the other.
Constructivist thought heavily influences this research, specifically when examining the fundamental concepts related to the topic. In constructivist educational settings, the teacher engages the students as a learning facilitator rather than an instructor. Therefore, the research investigates the association of hands-on tasks and use of virtual manipulatives to improve the learning experience and boost the child’s mathematical knowledge. In essence, this research aligns with the first tenet of Baltimore County School’s Conceptual Framework, ‘enthusiastic engagement in education’, given that it promotes a constructivist approach to engage learners using educational games and virtual manipulatives.
According to previous studies, manipulatives and educational games increase learners’ conceptual understanding. Considering the correlations representing ineffective and effective tech use for mathematical communication is not only impressive but also necessary. In fact, the researcher ought to analyse the relational aspects for a conclusive outcome. Further, research indicates that children learn through exploration of the surroundings. As they play and interact with each other, they mentally map out a representation of their world. Therefore, children in fourth and fifth grades improve their learning and reasoning skills through hands-on experiences instead of abstract concepts.
A virtual mathematical manipulative refers to a visual object for exploring mathematical concepts using an active and hands-on approach. They can include virtual cubes, shapes, paper, and counters. In an era of information technology, most schools in the United States are increasingly replacing traditional learning with virtual manipulatives and educational games. Further, using these tools directly correlates with mental math development. It yields a better conceptual understanding and relatively good outcome in comparison to the traditional learning techniques. Nearly all the findings show that educational games assist students during the learning process, thus leading to increased achievement, especially in mathematical education.
Other research outcomes differ as per the use of virtual manipulatives in distinct learning settings. Still, using educational games correlates positively with the late improvement of the learners’ mental mathematics, understanding, and achievement. For instance, base-10 blocks improve the learner’s conceptual understanding given that it has different mathematical units (such as thin rods and flats) generating learning interests and curiosity.
Cognitive tools and meaningful educational activities can improve the learner’s active involvement in the learning-teaching process. In addition, they encourage student’s reflections on concepts and links to be investigated. If the students use educational games regularly, their problem-solving skills and conceptual understanding improve significantly. Additionally, they will develop a positive attitude towards the subject due to concrete experiences that increase motivation levels while focusing attention. In a mathematical context, meaningful ideas and situations constitute concrete experience. For example, a learner can conceive a conceptual understanding of the number ‘4’ through building an arithmetical representation and linking it to a pictured virtual block in an educational game.
Computer manipulatives and games provide interactive learning environment so that learner can introduce and solve their problems. In turn, they establish connections between operations and mathematical concepts even as they receive immediate feedback regarding their activities. In light of this, the educators and software developers must design specific manipulatives focusing at distinctive math concepts. Studies reveal that virtual manipulatives and educational games provide further benefits over physical manipulatives. The former eliminates part of the constraints imposed by the latter on the task. The research, therefore, introduces virtual manipulatives and games in mathematical education. In addition, the researcher thoroughly discusses the implications of using these tools.
The research question guiding the study is “does the use of educational games and virtual manipulatives improve students’ engagement in the math classroom?” The researcher observed the study subjects for two weeks. Thereafter, he compiled the data from students that used educational games and those that studied maths using virtual manipulatives. Notably, the investigator assessed the participants using pre- and post-tests. Then, the collected information was analysed extensively for interpretation on the impact of both virtual manipulatives and educational games on students’ success in mathematics.
A fourth and fifth-grade teachers distributed the manipulatives and educational games to all the students irrespective of their level of understanding. The move is necessary for ensuring an exclusive outcome. Besides, the researcher conducted the study in an ordinary teaching setting. Hence there was no need for parental or student consent. During the study, the students learned new mathematical concepts, thus improving the outcome’s authenticity due to limited data distortion.