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Hands-On is Key to Accelerating Learning as Students Return to In-Person Instruction

In the early months of the pandemic, the response to the shift to virtual learning was nimble and adaptive. Educators worked closely with families to better understand what students needed as they learned from home. Administrators adapted expectations to ensure educators had the support they needed. Schools and districts identified technology partnerships to get kids access to devices and reliable WiFi access. Despite the incredible response to the challenges of the pandemic, numerous research has shown evidence of learning loss. To put it plainly, even with the best efforts, students are still behind. 

After a year of distance and hybrid classrooms in response to COVID-19, educators and administrators are recognizing key elements that have the most impact on learning. In math, specifically, the need to have hands-on components to virtual instruction has emerged as a critical element of learning. 

Amanda Curva is an Instructional Specialist for Exceptional Children in Harnett County Schools in North Carolina. After over a decade of experience in the district, she shifted into this role in the middle of the pandemic, giving her unique insight into what her fellow educators and their students are experiencing in this new environment. 

Amanda knew her teachers often struggled with how to transition their students from the concrete to the pictorial (or representational) and then abstract thinking in math. “When students start working on abstract reasoning there can be a huge disconnect. And our teachers often struggle with how to get students to cross that threshold from concrete to abstract.” This can be magnified when teachers are themselves adjusting to virtual and hybrid instruction. 

Ensuring students have that strong foundation in concrete mathematical concepts is even more important when considering the need to accelerate learning as students return to fully in-person classrooms. Amanda found that using hands-on resources both for students learning from home, and those in a hybrid environment can have an enormous impact on fighting learning loss. “Making math as hands-on as possible is key. Even though we’re in this virtual realm, adding a physical component makes things concrete for students.”

“TouchMath allows our students to have a concrete way to learn the connection,” she reflected. Because TouchMath uses the numeral as a manipulative, students are able to learn the value through the physical action of touching and counting. In her experience over the last year, Amanda has seen how important it is to have manipulatives readily available, so every student can have the same experience regardless of where they are learning. 

“I was modeling a lesson with an elementary teacher and one student who had never been exposed to TouchMath before looked up and said to me, ‘I see what we’re doing here. We’re using the TouchPoints to represent the number.’ The fact he was able to make that connection and understand that when he counts, a numeral represents a certain value, was huge. TouchMath has given our students the opportunity to physically grasp the transition from concrete to abstract.”


Amanda made the strategic decision to purchase enough manipulatives for her students still learning from home, as well as those back in their classrooms. The district has also started using TouchMath Pro, a new digital platform that empowers educators to personalize remediation and intervention based on the individual needs of each student. 

Between TouchMath Pro and ensuring students have access to TouchMath manipulatives, Amanda has seen remarkable results in a short time. “We’re seeing a faster turnaround of students moving from using TouchPoints in the concrete stage to then using the abstract representation of the number, to skip counting. My teachers are telling me they didn’t realize how many skills they are teaching with the TouchPoints. The combination of digital resources with hands-on manipulatives has been a critical part of keeping our students on track in math.”