Comparing the efficacy of virtual and concrete manipulatives to learn algebra for secondary students with learning disabilities

Rajiv Satsangi, Purdue University


The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (2000) principles and standards as well as the Common Core State Standards Initiative (2010) advocate providing technology to all students for the purpose of learning mathematics. Their recommendations encourage educators to make decisions regarding technology based on the individual needs of each child, with the goal of improving student outcomes in mathematics achievement. For students with disabilities, the advancement of instructional technology in academics comes with the recognition that not all technology is suitable for all types of learners. For students with a learning disability in mathematics, there exists a sizable body of literature studying various technologies and pedagogical practices for teaching secondary mathematics curriculum. However, with the growing footprint of computer-based technologies in today’s classrooms, some areas of study, such as the use of virtual manipulatives lack sufficient exploration. Although concrete manipulatives were studied for many decades for students with learning disabilities and are considered a best practice, the research base for virtual manipulatives is notably less. With a specific focus on algebraic instruction, this study sought to compare the benefits of both forms of manipulative to assist secondary students with a learning disability in mathematics to solve single variable linear equations using a single-subject alternating treatment design. Over the course of 30 sessions of intervention, three students exhibited over 90% average accuracy solving problems using both virtual and concrete manipulatives, while the concrete manipulative earned higher scores for two of the three students.




Bouck, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Mathematics education|Special education

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