Organizing Math Manipulatives

In my last blog entry, I talked about a common problem teachers are faced with when using math manipulatives — the issue of stealing.  This time I want to talk a little more about another common issue that confronts teachers when trying to incorporate a variety of math manipulatives as part of their instruction.  I often am asked a variation on the following question:

“How  can I better organize all these math manipulatives? I’m tired of finding plastic coins all over the floor at the end of a lesson on money.”

Ultimately, you will have to find the best answer that works for you, but I thought I’d share a couple ideas on this topic. Teachers I know utilize three different strategies for how to disburse manipulatives to use in classroom lessons. Some teachers pass out kits where they give each student a gallon bag containing a variety of the most often used math manipulatives. Other teachers organize table group buckets or baskets and have table group representatives come up and get the supplies for their group at the start of a lesson. The third strategy is to keep each type of manipulative in its own container. I’ve seen containers like plastic dishpans, baskets, or boxes as examples of storage containers.  Again, the teacher asks students to come up a few at a time to help themselves to the number of manipulatives needed per person or for partner  or small group work.

Teachers have shared lots of different strategies for helping to return manipulatives that have fallen on the floor to the place they belong. If the manipulatives are sorted and handed out by shape or color it is that much easier to return a lost manipulative to its proper home. Teachers use “sharpies” to number or letter manipulatives or place small stickers on them as a way to help in the sorting process. When a particular kind of manipulative has a large variety of small pieces, I like to sort them into the kinds of drawer systems found at hardward stores. (You know, the kind used for housing nails, screws, nuts, bolts, etc.) Every year I have a few students who love to help with sorting these math materials. They are often even willing to give up a recess to fill “student orders” for manipulatives.

Here’s a fun variation of this idea used for money manipulatives. Turn one of these drawer sets into the class bank. Identify a few students to be the bankers. They can even wear green eyeshades (cut out from old baseball caps) as they assume their Banker role.

Teacher to Teacher’s Making Sense of Problem Solving Books A and B include information about managing manipulatives, too. Click on the following file: A_Note_About_the_Use_of_Manipulatives to read the excerpt from these books.

What strategies have you come up with to help organize all those math manipulatives? We’d love to hear your comments.

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2 Responses to “Organizing Math Manipulatives”

  1. Jackie says:

    This is such a great question, I will use it as a topic for a blog entry.

  2. Steven Kimmi says:

    I have not used manipulatives with instruction for quite some time. However, I am trying to build up my use of them once again. We really run our math class as centers and I want one to be an exploration of concepts via manipulatives. The only problem is I don’t have enough activity resources to support this.

    Any thoughts?

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