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Subject:   RE: algebra tiles
Author: Henri Picciotto
Date: Apr 6 2004
On Feb 22, 2004, George Reese wrote:

> As someone who has always found algebra tiles to be harder than
> algebra, I found the "activities" that just tell you to illustrate a
> property not very helpful.

Some students find algebra manipulatives harder than algebraic manipulations.
For many of these students developing a geometric understanding of the
distributive law is a worthwhile expansion of their understanding. The
manipulatives are one way to do that.

> On the other hand, some people find these visualizing tools are a
> breakthrough in terms of understanding what's going on

One of my students put it this way: "The Lab Gear saved my butt". I can't tell
you how many teachers I have worked with for whom the geometric / manipulative
approach was a huge illumination. "If only I had been taught this way" is a
frequent comment from that type.

> To those who have used algebra tiles with their students (Suzanne?),
> how much time do you spend with them and how long does it take
> students to catch on?
  
There are different approaches. The biggest variable is the quality of the
curricular materials. The best ones emphasize concepts and puzzles rather than
procedures, and are worth spending more time on. The net effect is that you need
less drill time, so in the end it balances out.

One difference between physical blocks and virtual models on the computer is
that the blocks generate conversation about the ideas in a way that no work at
the computer can. (At least in my experience.)

--Henri

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