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Multiplying Decimals and Whole Numbers Using Digital Manipulatives

Want to give your students concrete experiences with multiplying decimals and whole numbers but don’t have enough manipulatives? Even if you have enough manipulatives, are you tired of managing all the pieces?

Decimal multiplication is a new skill for Texas 5th graders. In order for students to make sense of this new concept, they need to start with concrete and visual models. If you’re short on materials, go digital. Here are some ideas for multiplying decimals and whole numbers using digital manipulatives. 

completed problem using digital base ten blocks

Why use digital manipulatives

Manipulatives are important to conceptual understanding, but using them can be a pain. Not only do they take up a lot of space, but they also require a lot of effort to organize, distribute, and clean up. 

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a math grinch. I’m all for using manipulatives to teach new concepts, but I also like to save time.

Benefits of virtual manipulatives:

  • Students have easy access to what they need. 
  • Manipulatives don’t get lost.
  • You don’t have to distribute, organize, or store virtual manipulatives. 
  • You always have enough manipulatives for each activity.
  • Making your own digital manipulatives is easy peasy and inexpensive.

Modeling with Base Ten Blocks 

One of my favorite resources for digital manipulatives is Brainingcamp.com. Brainingcamp is comprehensive and easy to use. However, it requires a membership that not all budgets can afford. If you can’t get your school to purchase a Brainingcamp membership, Google Slides is a great, inexpensive alternative.

To use virtual manipulatives in Google Slides you have 2 options. You can buy digital clip art or you can create your own digital manipulatives. Check out Erintegration on Teachers Pay Teachers to find great math clip art.

example of 2 types of virtual manipulatives

Purchased clip art will save you time and could possibly be more realistic looking. However, you can easily create visual models in Google Slides using the shape tool. 

completed decimal multiplication problem using virtual base ten blocks

For a quick and easy multiplying decimals and whole numbers activity, create a set of Google Slides. Each slide needs a problem to solve and enough moveable pieces for students to model the problem.

For each problem, students will create equal-sized groups to match the equation. For example, in the problem above students will create 5 groups with 2 tenths in each group. Then they will type the product in the text box.

If something goes wrong, students can use the undo button in Google Slides or reset the slides to their beginning state. Also, students can duplicate the base ten blocks if they don’t have enough.

Grid Models

In the past, I would have my students color grids to model multiplying decimals and whole numbers. I thought the activity would be fun, but many students complained. Not only that, but some students spent too much time deciding which colors to use. Going digital was a great solution.

multiplying decimals and whole numbers sample problem with virtual manipulatives

For digital models, I add hundredths grids to Google Slides. For each model, students cover the appropriate amount of the grid to match the model. They can do this by creating their own color strips. They will need to increase the transparency level so that the hundredths grid is visible through the strip.

To keep things simple, I add the strips to each slide before the assignment is posted in Google Classroom. I don’t want my students to spend all their time selecting colors and changing the transparency. I want their focus to be on creating the models.

completed multiplying decimals and whole numbers grid model

This activity is easy to create in Google Slides, but if you’re short on time or just want something ready made, you can get my multiplying decimals and whole numbers activity on Teachers Pay Teachers.

YouTube video

Digital manipulatives aren’t ideal for every activity, but I will always use them for teaching multiplying decimals and whole numbers. With virtual manipulatives, I don’t have to worry about having enough base ten blocks for every student and each student gets the materials they need in the Google Slide activity without me having to sort, distribute, clean up, or store manipulatives.

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Hi, I’m Deirdre. Thanks for dropping by. I love supporting 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teachers with simple and engaging activities. Let me help you make teaching easier.


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