An internet search for “math manipulatives” turns up 19.6 million results in a little more than a half second. Kits containing plastic beads, coins and animal shapes; flash cards; and wooden blocks in a rainbow of colors range from $29.49 to more than $300.
For César Botetano, a GSE collaborating scholar from Lima, Peru, the best math manipulatives are free, and right at our fingertips. Literally.
“Every child in general likes math at the beginning, but there’s a breaking point when they are taught to learn multiplication facts by memory,” Botetano said. “That’s the first rejection of math because it’s not the easiest or most natural way to teach it.”
He has developed an engaging method using hands that has children learning to carry out arithmetic operations in just a few lessons, and what’s more, they’re having fun doing it.
Taking a close look at a human hand, each of our digits are conveniently delineated into three sections. Include the thumb, as though it, too, has three sections, and the Botetano Method has children multiplying up to 100.
“I think it works because we work with the two hemispheres of the brain. First, we try to touch not the logical, but the intuitive, the feelings, the senses, the imagination,” he said. “After that, then you join with the logical part of the brain. You coordinate both sides, and then the sky’s the limit.”
Botetano is the first to acknowledge he isn’t an educational researcher and his observations with teachers in Mexico, Bolivia, and Peru of more than 8,000 children being taught the Botetano Method are just that – observations. But those observations were enough to pique the curiosity of Professor Dor Abrahamson, who invited Botetano to collaborate with the Embodied Design Research Laboratory, a design-based research lab focused on studying mathematical cognition and instruction by creating and evaluating theory-driven educational innovation using both traditional and cutting-edge media.