Research and Evaluation Reports

Evaluation: Impact of Mathematics Manipulatives equipment on Learner understanding of Mathematical Concepts

The evaluation sought to understand the extent and nature of the use of the Manipulative, with particular focus on the factors promoting and retarding the use of the Manipulatives in the classroom. The evaluators investigated whether and how the support materials and/or workshops assisted teachers in teaching mathematics, and whether the Mathematics Manipulatives and support materials promoted learner knowledge, skills and content mastery in Mathematics.

Duration of Project: 2003 to 2005

Geographical base for project:  Gauteng

Evaluation conducted by: JET Education Services


The project supplied Mathematics Manipulatives equipment and trained educators at 15 primary and six secondary schools in the general Soweto area. The equipment was designed to facilitate the concrete understanding of Mathematical concepts by educators for the purpose of transferring this knowledge to learners in lessons that incorporated the use of the equipment.

The project provided a variety of equipment to assist learners in:

  • making a link between the concrete and the abstract in Algebra; and
  • investigating various concepts such as naming and classifying figures, attributes of solids, volume, surface area, density, relationships among lines and planes and cross sections of solids in geometry.

The training of educators took the form of workshops and classroom monitoring and support in an effort to ensure that the skills and knowledge acquired during workshops was translated into teaching and learning practice in the classroom and to provide assistance where educators faced problems in implementing new skills.

The evaluation aimed to address the following issues:

  • How efficiently were materials (Mathematics Manipulatives and support material) distributed to schools?
  • What was the extent and nature of the use of the Manipulatives?
  • What was the extent and nature of the use of the support materials and workshops?
  • How did the support materials and/or workshops assist teachers in teaching mathematics?
  • Did the Mathematics Manipulatives and support materials promote learner knowledge, skills and content mastery in Mathematics?
  • What are the factors promoting the use of the Manipulatives in classrooms?
  • What are the factors retarding the use of the Manipulatives in the classrooms?

Key Findings

Teacher development

There was a considerable improvement (+48%) in the level of conceptual development which included aspects such as levels of complexity, procedural skills as well as the use of the Mathematics Manipulative materials.

There was a considerable improvement (+48%) in the area of verbal communication.

When it came to reading and writing, the evaluator found no substantial difference between the baseline and final evaluation of this aspect of teacher development.

In terms of curriculum coverage and pace, there was an enormous improvement (162%) in terms of the indicators ‘on track to cover the curriculum’ and ‘maintaining pace that ensures pupils keep up’.

On the whole the teachers were practiced at using the Mathematics Manipulative Materials in the classroom and did so with confidence on a daily basis. They followed the Structured Programme with enthusiasm, and showed a huge improvement in the way they elicited and engaged with learner knowledge displays, while covering a larger percentage of the syllabus.

Learner Performance

In a grade level comparison for Grade 4 learners, there was an improvement of 13.6% in the project schools which is statistically significant. For Grade 7 learners, the gain of 5.2% was statistically significant in project schools whereas the relative gain of 0.5% in the control schools was not statistically significant. The Grade 7 teachers had access to the manipulative materials but not to the training and support components of the project. The smaller gains shown by Grade 7 learners compared with those exhibited by the Grade 4 and 5 learners provide some circumstantial support to the view that it is the project which was responsible for the very significant learning gains in the Intermediate Phase.


Teaching Practices

The following recommendations were made regarding teaching practice:

  1. While teachers were using the Mathematics Manipulative Materials with greater confidence and expertise in developing enactive understanding, much remained to be done in linking these conceptual images to symbolic Mathematical language. Teachers needed to get to the point where they made the link between enactive understanding, verbalising concepts and using algorithms.
  2. While there was a significant improvement, the extent to which the curriculum was covered still required attention.

Learner Performance

The impact on Grade 7 – although statistically significant (5-6%) – was much lower than that experienced at Grade 4 (13.6%). This may have been as result of the availability of the Mathematics Manipulative Materials but no dedicated Structured Programme at Grade 7. It would appear that the combination of both the Structured Programme together with the Mathematics Manipulative Materials and classroom support were the key success factors in achieving the project goals.

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