Original Research-Special Collection: Teacher education for the primary school and the perennial problem of practice

Pre-service mathematics teachers’ development process in using manipulatives in number operations

Zanele A. Ndlovu, Lytion Chiromo
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 9, No 1 | a698 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v9i1.698 | © 2019 Zanele Annatoria Ndlovu, Lytion Chiromo | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 30 August 2018 | Published: 05 September 2019

About the author(s)

Zanele A. Ndlovu, Department of Mathematics Education, School of Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
Lytion Chiromo, Department of Mathematics Education, School of Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

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Background: Teaching using manipulatives is emphasised, especially in the early grades, to help learners conceptualise operations on whole numbers. Therefore, teachers’ competencies in using manipulatives is the key in helping learners master these basic operation skills.

Aim: Drawing from the literature on using manipulatives to improve learners’ performance in mathematics, this study recounts foundation phase pre-service teachers’ conception of using manipulatives to enhance their competencies and reasoning skills to model the solution in number operations.

Setting: Data presented here was collected from 31 participants. These pre-service teachers either passed mathematics or mathematical literacy with 40% at the grade 12 level.

Methods: Data was collected from participants’ written work (e.g. classroom tasks, homework, tests and examinations) and during class discussions. Interviews were conducted with some students. We analysed their conception guided by the APOS theory, namely, Action-Process- Object-Schema.

Results: We observed improvement in the conception of using manipulatives among pre-service teachers. In the first semester, most students display action conception of using manipulatives to either represent or model a solution. However, in the second semester, most students either display process or object conception as explained in the genetic decomposition. We attributed the improvement to change of instruction in the second semester as we taught in accordance with the APOS theory.

Conclusion: It is evident that there are a number of contributing factors to pre-service teachers’ conception of mathematical concepts, and teacher educators need to pay particular attention to these to help pre-service teachers master the concepts they would teach at school.


ACE Teaching Style; Manipulatives; Number Operations; Pre-Service Mathematics Teachers; Competencies; Development Process.


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