Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Organizing Math Manipulatives in the Classroom {tips, ideas, & photos}

Let’s be honest. You could easily fill all of your classroom storage space with math manipulatives. There are just so many cool, hands-on tools for kids to use to explore math concepts. But, since space is always an issue, today I am going to share tips and ideas for organizing and storing your math materials.

According to the Common Core, students need to “use appropriate tools strategically.” This means that your students need to be able to access materials independently. 

And unless you want your room to quickly become a mess, you also need to implement storage techniques that allow for students to easily return materials they have used (or found on the floor).

The materials you have will vary depending on the grade level you teach, but there are lots of manipulatives that span across several grades. Here are some tips for storing the most common math manipulatives.

Small parts storage cabinets (available at Home Improvement stores) are really handy for holding enough manipulatives for one student to use. This is a great option if you have a student with an IEP or 504 who uses a variety of hands-on materials as you could fill the drawers with the child's supplies for easy access.

Rulers: Due to the fact that they are longer than most containers, I like to store my rulers in an open-ended container without a top. I find an oatmeal canister or a Pringles can that has been covered with decorative paper to match my classroom is the perfect solution. You may want to weigh down the bottom to prevent tipping.

Dice: We use dice for a variety of games and activities. I keep a collection of them in a Crystal Lite container. 

Pattern Blocks, Cubes, and Other Manipulatives: Deep, open-top containers are great for storing these types of manipulatives because kids can easily grab what they need and it makes it easy for lost pieces to be returned to the collection. I use small trash cans because they are narrow for storing on my shelves yet deep enough to hold many pieces.

Tangrams and Pentominoes: Because these items are used in a set it is important to have a system for keeping them together when not in use. A simple and cost-effective solution is to use small zipper bags to hold one set together. I then keep the baggies together in a larger container.

The Trofast bins and storage unit from Ikea shown above in Beth's classroom come in  variety of sizes. They are great because the kids can slide the entire bin out and take it to a work area. These are perfect if you use the workbox method I describe in my Guide to Organizing and Managing Math Workshop.

Mechele stores materials in the containers that are marketed as disposable food containers. These are sold at a lower cost than actual storage containers and the lids can be spray painted to match your classroom.

Isn’t this lovely? First grade teacher Colleen assessed her needs by figuring out exactly what she needed to store before buying containers. She then searched and found matching containers that came in a variety of sizes. The snap on lids prevent dust from creeping in and allow them to stack.

Taking a picture of your math manipulatives in their bucket and printing the images in color is a wonderful way to label containers for the littlest learners. Be sure to also add a label with words to encourage literacy skills.

The photo below shows how Mrs. Berg bought containers for a dollar and spray painted the lids red for math and blue for ELA. Not only is that a great visual organizing strategy, but it also presents as a neat and cohesive storage system.

{photo sources 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 }

Which math manipulative is your favorite to teach with?


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