Hands-on materials are an important tool in the math classroom, but they are a pain to keep track of. Spending time outside of class organizing tangram sets, say, is a real hassle. Having students do it during class is a waste of valuable instructional time. My suggestion, using tangrams as an example:
- To minimize mix-ups, hand out different-colored sets to students in a group.
- Have students check if they have a full set at the beginning of class. If they don't, have them trade it in for another set.
- Consolidate incomplete sets into one large bin. In future classes, if a student is missing a certain piece, find it in the bin, and complete their set.
This method of course works for other puzzle sets (pentominoes, superTangrams) but you can adapt it to work with things like pattern blocks or Lab Gear. Keeping a perfectly organized box of materials would require a lot of unnecessary work. Instead, if a group's box is short on a certain type of block, draw from a big reserve bin to complement their set.
Over the years, these techniques have saved me a lot of time!
(Still, once in a while, you may need to do a clean-up of a particular manipulative, especially if you are unsure you have enough for a given class. When that happens, try to get a group of colleagues or students to help!)