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April 15, 2015 Manage Math Manipulatives and Centers By Lindsey Petlak
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    I love teaching math, but the management and organization of workstation manipulatives, storage, paperwork, and more sometimes drive me nuts. For many teachers, it's enough to keep them from implementing such activities in the classroom and I don’t blame them one bit.

    Keep reading for quick, easy ways to organize the chaos that often comes with providing hands-on math instruction and exploration.


    Even when students try their hardest, it seems like game pieces, dice, and small manipulatives get lost and scattered. Last year our district purchased a treasure chest load of dice, dominoes, and other small math manipulatives for each classroom.

    We decided to creatively use these awesome hardware drawer organizing systems to store the items and they were a HUGE success. Since the drawers are clear, students instantly see which dice are in what drawer and this makes setup and cleanup a snap.


    TIP: add cover labels to each drawer by following Genia Connell’s step-by-step instructions!


    I use dollar store open tubs with handles for visible and versatile storage of my math manipulatives. Such a display makes the math tools enticing, easy to access, and quick to put away.

    I incorporate math practice task cards into my guide math rotations and independent centers. To simplify which cards go with which manipulatives, I printed, cut, and laminated the cards, then punched a hole in the upper left corner and secured all of the cards to the handle of the tubs. Students have everything they need to complete the task cards in one grab!


    After years of trying to laminate center instructions and struggling through numerous ways to display them at centers along with accountability sheets/worksheets for each station, I have found a solution that works wonderfully: clear page protectors hooked together with a book ring.

    I print instructions, example pages, and a master of the worksheet/accountability sheet for each station and put them into clear sleeves (back-to-back to save money on sleeves). Then, I put lots of copies of the activity page for that center into another clear sleeve and hook them all together with a book ring. Students flip through and have everything they need, including a master activity page for easy grab-and-copy teacher access.


    Once I have my center pages and copies organized into clear page protectors as described above, it’s time to pair them with game pieces and manipulatives for that center activity. In my classroom, centers are mobile, which means all materials for centers need to be in self-contained, portable containers. For this purpose, I find plastic shower caddies and picnic utensil organizers to be perfect. The little compartments allow for the instructions in page protectors as well as all manipulatives to be easily stored and moved around the room.


    I love dollar store finds for manipulative organization. Plastic lunch containers are king!  Contain dice use by putting one or more die in each tiny container. Students shake the container and set it on the table to see where dice land. The dice stay contained and don’t get lost, but still function perfectly in the little boxes. Even better? No sticky hands on the dice, means no need to disinfect!

    Centers contain many pieces, no matter what subject they are for. I love using multi-compartment snack containers to house manipulatives, as well as quick instructions for math games. Students just grab the snack pack container and go. This system minimizes lost pieces.


    My math portion of the day seems to accumulate tons of different papers for a variety of purposes. Organize them all instantly by using plastic drawer systems with what is inside clearly labeled on each drawer. Examples of math-specific turn-in drawers might include the following labels: practice pages, center activities, assessments, homework, etc. The best part is, students will learn what type(s) of activities go into each drawer and will sort and organize turned in work on their own, saving you tons of time and frustration!


    For more inspiration on organizing and managing math manipulatives, centers, and more, read the posts below by my fellow top teaching bloggers!



    Thanks for reading and see you next week!



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