Are you looking for a way to spice up your math instruction AND meet the needs of all of your learners? Have you been thinking of starting math centers in your classroom, but not sure where to begin? If so, you’re in luck! This post will share the 8 steps to getting started with math centers, including planning your procedures and routines to launching your math centers.
Step 1 – Determine Your Purpose and Goals
Start by defining the purpose and goals for even using or having math centers as part of your math instruction.
- Do you want to reinforce the math skills you are teaching after you introduce them?
- Do you want to use math centers to continually review and spiral through math concepts?
- Do want to use this as a chance to provide differentiated instruction and fill gaps in your students’ math skills and knowledge?
- Do you want to promote collaborative learning?
Knowing your goals and purpose ahead of time will guide your planning and help you implement meaningful math center activities. You can definitely have more than one goal in mind and those goals can also change as the year progresses. For me, my goals were to continually review and spiral math skills and concepts while also filling in gaps in my student’s knowledg and skills.
Step 2 – Plan Your Procedures and Routines
The next step to successful math centers is to have a plan for procedures, routines, and expectations. Having a clear plan for procedures and routines will help your math centers run smoothly and allow you to maximize the benefits of math centers.
The good news is that they are so many different ways to run them. The bad news is that there are so many ways to run math centers that there really is no one best way that I can share.
You will need to decide how you want to run your math centers. Topics to consider are:
- Will the students choose their math centers, or will you assign them? If you assign the math centers, how will you post the assigned math centers?
- Will students rotate at their own pace, or will you rotate them?
- How will the students know when center time is finished?
- What procedures will you have in place for setting up a center and cleaning up?
- What do the students do if they get stuck, are confused, or just don’t know what to do?
- What materials will students bring to centers?
- What do the students do if they need materials?
- What will students do when they are finished with their math center work early?
Math Center Locations
- Will students stay at their desks or go to assigned math center areas?
- Where will the centers be located?
- How many different math centers will you have?
- Will the students be working in pairs, in triads, as a small group, or independently, and does this vary from center to center?
Step 3 – Figure out a schedule that works best for you.
For scheduling, you need to consider how you will schedule the groups and how frequently you will use math centers for your instruction.
Here are some questions to guide you:
- How long will each rotation or center be?
- How many rotations will you have each day?
- How many days will you do math centers?
Step 4 – Decide how you will group your students.
Now, you will need to determine how you will group your students. Here are some questions or suggestions to keep in mind:
- How many students will be in each group? I try to keep my groups at no more than six students, with four being the ideal, but not always realistic. I do try to keep my groups with more struggling students smaller
- Will you group your students by similar levels or a mixture of levels? If you group by similar levels, your teacher time can be more intensive and beneficial. Also, grouping by levels allows you to differentiate centers easier. On the other side, having a mixture of students at different levels allows the students to help and learn from each other. I would recommend grouping closer together in levels if you do decide to mix levels. You don’t want your highest learner with your learner that struggles the most (unless your high learner is an excellent tutor). You want the levels to be closer together so the students can learn from and teach one another.
- Will your groups stay consistent, or will they change? I actually use two types of math grouping in my classroom, one for math centers and one for whole group instruction lessons. My math groups during math centers don’t typically change, while my math groups during whole groups days change on a daily basis. Click HERE to read a blog post where I differentiate between the two types of math groups I use in my classroom.
Step 5 – Choose the materials and types of math centers you plan to use.
This is an important one. You need to choose your materials and types of centers carefully to maximize learning and minimize behavior problems. You will also want to choose materials that are engaging, developmentally appropriate, and help you achieve the goal you have for math centers.
- Do your students struggle with computation fluency? Make sure you have at least one computation center. My students typically struggle a lot with computation, so I actually prefer to have two – one that is independent and one that is with partners.
- What levels are your students with word problems and complex math tasks? Do they need simple one step word problems or are they ready for more challenging multi-step word problems? In the beginning, I stick to one-step word problems to build their math responses and quality of work with word problems.
- Do you want your students to play games or do you prefer more independent-type activities?
- Are your students capable of quickly learning directions for new games and activities, or do you want to maximize your time by keeping the center activities simple?
Having consistent math centers helps maximize math center time since you are not explaining a new math center each week. And your students are not having to learn directions for a new center instead of focusing on the math.
There are many different consistent math centers that you can choose from. Here are some options:
- Math Task Cards
- Partner Games or Activities
- Paper and Pencil Independent Math
- Math Choice Boards
- Digital Math Practice
- Find the Error Practice
- Hands-On Math – Sorts or Manipulatives
Step 6 – Get organized.
To effectively organize for effective math centers, you will need three organization “systems”:
1) organization for centers not in use
2) organization for centers being used by the students
3) organization for you – all the forms and planning data
Step 7 – Have a clear plan for classroom management and expectations.
Management is key when you are getting started with math centers. In Step 1, you planned out your procedures and expectations. That will be the foundation for keeping your students on task and working.
Here are my top tips for managing students during math centers:
- Have Clear Expectations and Procedures
- Model, Model, and then Model Some More
- Use Group Jobs or Roles
- Use Positive Reinforcement – Group Points
- Have a Plan in Place for Misbehavior – Alternate Work
Step 8 – Launch your math centers.
Once you have steps 1-7 done, you are ready to launch your math centers! When you start or launch your math centers, this is the chance to:
- Model and teach students your expectations for behavior
- Model and teach your guided math and math center procedures
- Model and teach the specific math centers you have chosen to use
Once you’ve launched the centers, be sure to monitor student progress and make adjustments as needed. I recommend starting math centers in the first month of school, but definitely don’t be afraid to start them at any point in the school year.
With these steps, you’ll be well on your way to successful math centers in your classroom!
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