Friday, January 2, 2015

A New Approach to Math Centers and More...

As many of you know, "time" is a precious resource in our classrooms. We always want more time in the school day to make our lessons more engaging, more complex, and more meaningful. I don't know about you, but one of my goals is to make the most of the time that I do have with my students.

Here is a little bit of background about where I teach. I teach at a Title I school in Broward county. This year, my school is an "extended day" school due to not having shown enough gains last year. There are many other schools that became an "extended day" school. This program has proven to be successful in previous years in different pilot schools. In a nut shell, an hour has been added to the school day. So, we work from 7:45-3:15 (kids leave at 3:00.) That extra hour is designated to teaching Reading. Now, this is on top of already having a literacy block. For our particular school, this extended reading block is done during the last hour of the day. It's structured as a 10-20-30 method. We work on fluency for 10 minutes using 6 Minute Solutions, then a read-a-loud for 20 minutes, and the last 30 minutes is for my intervention group.

Due to the circumstances of our school, our district has provided us a lot of extra support in order to help our school grow. This has led me to this post...I was introduced to Lauren from our math district department a few months ago through my school's math coach. I was told she was coming to offer us some guidance/help/suggestions, etc. I was beyond THRILLED! I immediately felt connected to Lauren and felt like I could really rely on her for help and support. After all, I'm still a new teacher and I'm always open to ideas and suggestions. Lauren had also taught 4th grade before taking a position from our district so she is very knowledgeable about our curriculum.

Let me start off by sharing that I have been implementing math centers this year, but I was still not 100% happy with the way it was being implemented. I would teach a lesson for about 10-15 minutes, and then we would break into centers. I had 4 centers going. They were: On Your Own, Teacher, Computers, and Task Cards or a hands-on activity.

The struggle that I had was that 20 minutes per center was not long enough for my students to complete the given assignment because I had 6 or 7 students at each center and my students would talk more than they would work. I had a lot of incomplete work being turned in and it just became too complicated and I was getting discouraged.

After meeting with Lauren a few times, she shared with me her method for implementing math centers. Now, I know this might seem intimidating or time consuming, but I can't even begin to tell you how easy it was to implement (especially since we have already been doing centers.)

First thing I needed to do was make a display for my students with the rotations.
This is my rotation board. I plan on making it a little cuter. At the time that I made this, I was more worried about functionality. I'm thinking some Washi tape instead of black lines may do the trick while still making this easy for my students to read. =)
My green group is my low group, my red and blue group are my mid to mid-high group, and my purple group is my high group. I have 23 students. I have 3 groups with 6 students, and 1 group with 5. Each rotation is approximately 20-25 minutes.

The idea behind this particular system is that I now teach the math lesson in small group. I no longer teach math whole group. I know..shocker, right! Keep reading..I promise I have very good results!

Teacher- Students come to me and I teach them the math lesson in small group.
On Your Own- The students work from their math book. ( I will explain a very important detail towards the very end.)
Workshop - These are my "centers." The workshop is the center and they only visit ONE center per day.
Computers - My students work on a program through BEEP and they do what's called "Animated Math Models." These models corresponds to the lesson that I am teaching.

I'm now going to share with you what is done at each center. I should first mention that because I do Daily 5 centers, I call my math centers "Workshops."

This is my Workshop rotation board. The entire board is laminated and I used a fastener to attach the blue circle. I use an Expo marker to write on the entire thing. I will be posting another blog post with directions on how to make this workshop board. Stay tuned! =)
Every morning when I come in, I rotate the wheel. This helps my students and myself know which workshop they go to. I actually used Velcro to attach the laminated flash cards because when you turn the wheel, inevitably, the names will be upside down. You'll also notice that I started with my blue group because based on my rotation board, they are the first group to go to a workshop every morning, then purple, then green, then red. So, you can see that when the blue group is at a workshop, workshop number 2 is the only workshop that has 2 students there. All the other workshops only have 1 student. The beauty of this system is that even with 23 students in my class, I only have 1 or 2 students at each workshop. You know what that means, less distractions during workshops = students completing their work=happy teacher!

I have four workshops in place. Workshop number 2 and 4 are the workshops that I tend to change the most. Every workshop station has directions, a "Turn-In Folder," and any materials my students may need. I collect Turn-In Folders from each workshop every Friday and my students get graded on their work. I make it very clear to them that they will only be at each workshop once a week, so if they play around, they may not finish, which will cause them to get a poor grade. So far, I have not had any problems with students not completing an assignment. 

Here is a run down of what is done at each workshop:

Side Note: Please keep in mind that many of my math workshops double as my Daily 5 center locations so you may see multiple directions in some of the pictures.

Workshop #1: Fluency

This workshop is dedicated to fact fluency. My students practice fluency through different fun activities. It's also extremely important that you include an extension activity. For this workshop, the extension is practicing fluency with flash cards. They LOVE playing with flash cards.

Here are some picture of my fluency workshop:

I put crayons in the little blue garbage pail as most of the fluency activities that I give my students require some coloring. Gotta make it fun!

I typically put the worksheets in the purple bin and students know to turn in their completed activity into this folder.
Workshop #2: Task Cards

This workshop is dedicated to reviewing past skills or current skills that I feel my students need extra practice with. My students absolutely LOVE task cards so this center has been dedicated to task cards, dice games, etc.

Here are some picture of my task cards workshop:

I forgot to put the task cards in the bin before break, but I put the task cards in a baggie with directions. I make my own task cards which you can find here. All of my task cards include directions, so for this workshop, I do not have to type up any additional directions.

I typed up a quick label for each Turn In Folder.

Recording sheets for the task cards.
Workshop #3: MegaMath

For this workshop, my students grab a laptop and sit at their desk and use another program through BEEP called MegaMath. It's wonderful and my students seem to really enjoy going on it.

Workshop #4: Review/Interactive Journal

This workshop is dedicated to our interactive journal or some type of hands-on activity. The interactive journal tends to take more than 20 minutes so this workshop typically stays the same for 2 weeks. So that means that the students would visit this workshop twice in two weeks time.

Here are some picture of my Review/Interactive Journal workshop:

As you can see, I provide students with a sample of my interactive notebook and I include the directions and all materials in the bin.
Earlier, I mentioned that I wanted to share with you some important information for when your students are at "On Your Own."

If you look at the chart, you'll notice that my purple group starts with going to "On Your Own." Now, when they are doing work on their own, they are working on math problems in their book independently. So you may have thought to yourself, "How are they supposed to do the math problems if you have not taught the lesson yet?"

There is some strategy behind this. Because the purple group sees me last, they do not actually get to do the math problems in their book for that day's lesson. They actually do it the next day. Remember, my purple group is my high group. Therefore, they can usually retain the information I taught them the day before and complete the math book problems the next day without any problems. They are technically one day behind when it comes to "On Your Own" book work. This has not been a problem for them as of yet. Fingers crossed. =)

Let me break it down for you with a scenario.

Let's say Monday I taught multiplication through partial product and on Tuesday I taught multiplication through regrouping. On Tuesday, my purple group will be doing the book work for multiplication through partial product, NOT through regrouping even though I taught regrouping on Tuesday. This again is because they are one day behind on their book work because they are the last group to see me.

I spent an entire week modeling how to rotate. It was extremely important that I spend the time making sure they know where to go and when to go there. It has proven EXTREMELY beneficial. I no longer have students asking me where they need to go, what workshop they should be at, what they have to do at each workshop, etc. It's a beautiful sight!

NOW, for the results! I started this new model at the same time that I started a new chapter on fractions. I was terrified of the results. I was terrified that this would not have worked...Well, let me tell you a little secret, my class as a whole did better than they ever had on a math test. I have never had as many passing grades as I did with this chapter. And let's face it, fractions can be VERY challenging for our students.

I really want to thank Lauren for introducing me to this amazing system of math centers. Without her assistance and experience I would still be trying to figure out a better way of implementing my math centers.

If you have any further questions, please leave a comment below or e-mail me at

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Thank you so much for stopping by!


  1. You have me hooked! Your pictures and explanations have been so helpful. I'm looking forward to setting up math centers in my room. :)

    Rachel Mack
    Third Grade Cupcakes

  2. Hey Rachel!

    You've made my day! I'm so glad this post was helpful for you. I was truly struggling with math centers and now it's my favorite part of the day! If you have any questions at all, please don't hesitate to ask! Thank you so very much for stopping by!

  3. I am SO doing this! I will organize it this week to be ready to go for next week. This is a wonderful idea and I know it will help improve my math instruction. I will have to get creative for the computer part, because I only have 3 student {one is down right now, too} an iPod touch and a iPad. I will have to think a bit on that one!

    I may be emailing you with questions I have! Thank you for sharing Tami! I can't wait to follow you through your blogging journey!


  4. Thank you so much for this information. It is very helpful as I try to implement math workshop in my own class. I'm starting mid-year, so we'll see how it goes!