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NYC Helpline: How To: Teach Math
Organizing Your Classroom for an Independent Math Workshop
Sarah Picard

In the week leading up to my first week of teaching second grade in New York City, I unpacked my new classroom. I arranged and rearranged furniture in the hopes that I would get things set up “just right” for the first day of school. As it turned out, I wouldn’t get it “just right” for those first days, but I would learn a tremendous amount that first year about arranging my classroom to maximize student achievement in math and literacy.

Teaching in a school on the lower east side of Manhattan, in then District 2, I was given the Investigations Curriculum (TERC) teachers guides, student workbooks and boxes of manipulatives. The boxes of math materials were larger than I imagined. As I read through the curriculum, I realized how much the students were going to need access to the math manipulatives. With support from my colleagues, I made a comfortable space for myself and my students to learn together.

Here are a few tips for organizing your math center, especially one with manipulatives.

  • Create a space to gather. For me, the best place to gather was a rug or carpet. If you have a larger class, you may have some children pull up chairs or benches to the edge of the rug as well.

  • You may want to assign each child a rug or gathering spot around the edge of the carpet. If you have a large number of students this is especially important. You will want to train the kids to move in and out of the gathering space quickly and assigning spots may help you and the kids manage your time.

  • You may also want to assign each child a number. If you have 23 students, then give each child a number, 1 through 23. This will help when you dismiss children from the rug. For example, you may say, “all odd numbers may go off to start their work,” or “numbers 1 through 11 may go to their desks.”

  • Make sure you have plenty of chalkboard or dry erase board space at the gathering place. My colleagues recommended about 10 feet. You will use this space to hang charts, develop ideas and share theories.

  • Hang a 100 chart from the chalk ledge so it is at eyelevel when the children gather at the rug.

  • Run a number line horizontally above the chalk ledge so it is at eyelevel with the kids when they gather at the rug.

  • Use one or two bookshelves to store your manipulatives. Make sure to consider the shelves’ height: you’ll want to be able to see over them and you’ll want your students to be able to reach the manipulatives with ease. You don’t want to be interrupted in a conference or small group lesson to help a child get materials.

  • Use small baskets (about shoebox size) to store and organize your manipulatives on the shelves. For example, the top shelf may have five baskets of unifix cubes, the second shelf may have five baskets of pattern blocks, and the third shelf may have two baskets of blocks and three baskets of coins.

  • Label each manipulative basket and the shelf where it belongs. This will ensure that the children put the manipulatives in their appropriate basket and that each basket gets put back on the shelf where you expect it to be.

  • Use a large bin to store the children’s math workbooks or notebooks. Each child’s name and number should be on the right hand corner so they can find their workbook or notebook and return it easily when they are done.


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