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Computer-based Manipulatives

Freeware, shareware, demos and Web sites

by Tom O'Haver ( January 1, 2001

Electric circuit construction set (Screen shot)
Crocodile Clips Elementary is a freeware program for Windows and Macintosh that allows students to build simulated electric circuits of batteries, light bulbs, switches, motors, buzzers, variable resistors, and fuses. Includes an interactive tutorial with questions. Useful as an extension to the usual "batteries and bulbs" experiment. The software can be downloaded from

Interactive microscopic model of a gas (Screen shot)
This interactive Web site shows that the molecules in a gas are moving constantly and colliding with the walls of its container. One wall of the container is a movable piston which is free to move up and down. Students can experiment with this model by pressing down on the piston (placing more weight on the piston, adding or removing gas molecules, or changing the temperature (velocity of the molecules). Helps students understand that gas pressure is simply the result of collisions of gas molecules with the walls of the container. Plot pressure against volume to observe the inverse relationship (Boyle's Law).

Simulated chemistry Set (Screen shot)
Chem Lab 2.0 allows students to perform simulated chemistry experiments using a large set of realistically-simulated grassware, chemicals, and laboratory equipment. A functional demo version of the software can be used to perform basic chemistry laboratory procedures such as titration, calorimetry, kinetics, and crystallization. Versions for PC or Macintosh can be downloaded from

Dynamic mechanical construction set (Screen shot)
SodaConstructor is an interactive Web site that allows student to build and operate stick-figure mechanisms consisting of masses, springs, and "muscles" that expand and contract. Students can change gravity, spring stiffness, and friction. Lots of fun. Useful for reinforcing concepts of structure, stability, friction, gravity, force, frequency and phase.

Multi-level genetics simulation (Screen shot)
GenScope is a computer-based manipulative that allows students and teachers to manipulate the processes of inheritance of imaginary creatures on six levels: DNA, chromosome, cell, organism, pedigree, and population. Allows students not only to read about genetics, but actually observe and manipulate processes at one biological level that affect life at another. Extensive curriculum activities have been developed and tested for this program. For Macintosh. Download fully functional free program from

Solar System construction set (Screen shot)
Gravitation is a shareware program for Macintosh that allows students to design, build, and operate their own solar systems under the laws of gravitation and planetary motion. Solar systems can have any number of suns, planets, moons, asteroids, and comets. Reinforces concepts of mass, gravitational attraction, orbital motion, velocity and acceleration, escape velocity. Download from

Planetarium simulator (Screen shot)
CyberSky shows the location and movement of the stars, constellations, planets, sun moon at any time and date - past, present, or future. Flexible time-step animation acts like a time machine, speeding up time so students can see motions clearly. Helps students understand how the season arise, how solar eclipses happen and where to view them, why the stars are important to navigation. Shareware. "When Dragons Eat the Sun",a discovery-oriented lesson plan that utilizes this software. The program can be downloaded from

Simulation of electron microscope (Screen shot)
This is a simple Web site that allows students to view specimens of cells, crystals, insects, etc., at various magnifications. Courtesy of Pfizer Corp., part of the Pfizer Fun Zone site. Requires Shockwave plug-in. Address:

Interactive Physics (Screen shots)
Interactive Physics is a commercial program that allows students to create mechanical models by drawing onscreen with objects like springs, dampers, ropes, and joints. Measure attributes of your objects like velocity, acceleration, momentum, and energy. You can also display these measurements as numbers, graphs, or animated vector displays. Then interact with your model in real time by changing parameters as the simulation runs. Teachers can order a free CD with demo version (Windows and Macintosh) on-line at

Physics demonstrations (Screen shot)
This is a collection of interactive Web pages with manipulatives for mechanics (free-fall, projectile motion, pendulum), wave motion, and electricity. Requires browser with Java capability. Address:

Visualization of sound (Screen shot)
Soundview and Spectrogram are freeware programs that display any sound picked up by the computer's microphone in real time as a waveform and as a spectrogram or soundprint. Suitable for voice or musical instrument sounds. Use to reinforce concepts of frequency, pitch, amplitude, waveform. Download links: Soundview for Macintosh; Spectrogram V4.12 for Windows.

Visual sound wave maker (Screen shot)
Fourier Synthesis is a Web site that allows students to create sound waveforms by varying the harmonics (overtones). Shows the soundwave graphically as well as playing the sound through the computer's speakers. Address:

Interactive music and math manipulative (Screen shot)
Play a piano is an interactive Web site where students can play a piano using the mouse or the computer keyboard. The frequency of each note (in Hz or cycles per second) and its waveform and envelope are displayed. Helps students understand the relationship between the sounds, music theory, musical scales, and the underlying math and physics of how sounds are produced and perceived. Address:

KaleidoTile (Screen shot)
KaleidoTile is a freeware Macintosh program that students can use to create and manipulate tessellations of the sphere, Euclidean plane and hyperbolic plane, and to see how the Platonic solids are related to tessellations. Very colorful and easy to use. Download from

Geometry construction set (Screen shot)
The Geometer's Sketchpad is a commercial program for Euclidean, coordinate, transformational, analytic, and fractal geometry construction. Extensive curriculum materials have been developed for this program, including Sketchpad for Little Ones, Sketchpad Classroom Resources, and Sketchpad Classroom Resources on the Web. Download demo version (Mac or PC) from

Shape and pattern exploration (Screen shot)
Shapari is capable of producing patterns from very simple shapes and operations. A conceptually simple but none-the-less challenging shape matching game. A light exploration of many mathematical concepts including shape, size, count, multiplication, symmetry, transformations, periodicity, convergence, exponential growth, recursion and fractal geometry. Emphasizes abstract thinking, creativity and open-ended exploration. Ages 4 and up. Built-in instructions and demonstrations. Download trial version from

Tessellation construction set (Screen shot)
Tesselmania allows students to explore and construct colorful tessellations using a set of specialized drawing tools. Has a built-in tutorial and lots of colorful and cute examples. Download demo version from (Note: set your screen to 256 colors before running this program: right-click on the desktop, select Properties, click on the Settings tab, and select 256 colors from the Colors pop-up menu). Both

Math puzzle games (Screen shot)
Prime Time Math covers prime numbers, factoring, squares, cubes, remainders, fractions, percentages, algebra and most of all logic. Math Function Mania covers functions and predicion of trends. Shareware versions of both programs can be downloaded from

Function graphing programs (Graphin' Gadget) (2D MathCurve) (3D MathCurve)
Gus and Gertie's Graphin' Gadget is a simple program for plotting functions. Very simple but versatile. Download the trial version from MathCurve is a slightly fancier shareware 2D function plotter with a slick 3D companion program. Download from

Making change (Screen shot)
Change Maker is an interactive Web site that uses a game format to practice making change. Students have to figure out how many of each bill or coin that you expect to get back when you pay for something. Shows the money graphically in your choice of national currencies. Address:

Interactive math workbook (Screen shot)
Internet Educational Workbook is a Web site that provides a large mathematics database which is useful for practicing and sharpening various skills for the student in Kindergarten through grade 6. Address:

Math practice (Screen shot)
Learning Planet is a Web site with K-6 math practice activities. Address:

Coin fliping and probability
The Flip Site looks at the probability of coin flipping. Has a large database with a number of ways to see some neat things about random processes. Has recorded the results of 6 million continuous coin flips (to verify the probability of "run" of heads or tails). Address:

Measuring angles (Screen shot)
Angle Activities is a Web site with interactive activities measuring angles with a virtual protractor. Address: One of a larger collection of similar math activities at

Virtual World Globe and Database (Screen shot)
AmiGlobe 2000 is a delightful shareware interactive world globe and database. Up-to-date world map may displayed as a globe or in several projections. Impressive zoom feature. Extensive database on most countries. Automatically downloads annotated photographs via the Internet. Measures distance between any two points on map. Even plays the national anthem of each country, complete with sing-along lyrics. Download freom their website:

Online quiz database and construction tool (Screen shots)
Quia is a free Web site with a directory of thousands of online games and quizzes in more than 40 subject areas; templates for creating twelve different types of online games, including flashcards, matching, concentration (memory), word search, hangman, challenge board, and rags to riches (a quiz-show style trivia game); tools for creating online quizzes; quiz administration and reporting tools. Address:

Templates for quiz construction (Screen shot)
Teaching Templates is a authoring program with many examples of the tests, quizzes and exercises it can create - some for English grammar and vocabulary and some "just for fun" (Prepositions, Abbreviations, Proverbs, James Bond, Academy Award Winners, Dates in History, American Presidents etc.) Makes HTML files which can be viewed with any web browser. The tests, quizzes and exercises you make can be inegrated in a web page or run as stand-alone programs at home or in the classroom. Includes sounds and images to liven up the exercises. Download link:

Social studies game (Screen shot)
The Great Debate is a government trivia game program from Time for Kids. Choose two opponents from a selection of fun characters, including Al, George, and Britney. Answer questions about the President's powers and abilities, and test your knowledge about Congress and the Supreme Court. Download link.

Games for young children (Screen shot)
Ray's Letters and Numbers is a freeware letters and numbers game for very young children. Address:

Grammar computer-aided instruction (Screen shot)
Diagnostic Prescriptive Grammar has six diagnostic tests determine students' understanding of the parts of speech and direct them to the appropriate lesson to improve performance. The program evaluates the students work before moving him/her on to the next lesson. Each individualized lesson focuses on several grammar skills, is self-correcting, and allows the student to progress through each skill area at his/ her own pace without teacher intervention. Students are able to track their progress and print results. Student scores are kept in a management system that allows teachers to view and print reports. Designed for Grades 6 to 10. Website:

Multimedia slide show presenter (Screen shot)
Alcyone is a neat freeware slide show presenter that can easily create slideshows from any collection of graphics or digitized photos. Very simple to use. Large collection of accompanying background music in many different styles.