Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Math Centers Madness

     Hi everyone!  It’s Lisa from Second Grade Stories.  I am so excited to be part of this new blogging adventure.  All the posts so far have been so helpful I’ve gotten some great ideas for January back-to-school!  We’ve been off for 2 full weeks so it is definitely going to be tough this week.  Add to that the fact that we’re experiencing a deep freeze (single digits and below zero temps and I live in CT, not the Arctic!) so no outside recess I’ve got to keep my kiddos focused!
     One thing I can relax about though, is that I have FINALLY figured out how to make math centers work in my room.  I have tried all sorts of things, Math Daily 5, choice boards you name it and I’ve tried some version of it.  Nothing really seemed to work for me, until I came up with my current way of doing things.  By the way, this is going to be a long post, so I hope you’re in your pj’s with some hot chocolate (preferably of the peppermint variety J).  There’s a freebie at the end though, so stick with me!
      Disclaimer:  I do not do this during my actual math time.  My school has two 30-minute intervention times blocked off each day (one for reading and one for math).  This is the time students receive tiered interventions or enrichment, practice skills, etc.  So that’s when I do my math centers.  We also have other staff available to take groups of students at this time.  You could absolutely make it work during regular math time though, if you did a warm-up, a mini-lesson, and then did the centers while you worked with small groups.
     Ok, onto how we make this work.  I say “we” because for this intervention rotation (6 week time), my teammates and I decided to mix our kids.  We met together and plunked all the data we had for our kids in the middle of the table to sift through.  We have VERY different class make-ups, so our needs were really different.  That’s why we decided to shuffle everyone around.  It was becoming impossible for one of us to meet the needs of all the kids in our room.  First we looked at who needed Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions and in what area, and who could use some enrichment.  Once we decided on those groups and who would work with them, we decided to have the rest of our kiddos do math centers during that time.  Here's the organizing sheet we use - I call it my "sanity sheet" so when a kiddo comes to me and says, "Where am I supposed to go?" I can figure it out fast!  (all names have been changed to protect the innocent :-)
Here’s how centers work in my room:
     I have 4 different “centers” to rotate through for the week, one each day: math boxes, math games, math technology and math work.  I’ll go through all of these in a minute, but first I want to let you know how we rotate.  Because we were mixing kids from all 3 rooms this first time, I thought it would be easier to have a set schedule for each group, rather than have students choose themselves.  I do plan on having them make their own choices after we get this down first.  I divided them into 4 groups and assigned one group to each center. 
     Each day they move to the next center in a clockwise direction. At the end of the center time, I have a volunteer move the group names to the new center so they know what they'll be doing the next day. That way, everyone comes in and starts right away.
 All right.here’s what each center looks like and how it works:


These are fun activities students can do independently to practice and reinforce skills. Think regular math center activities here. This really turned out to be my best set-up yet! I have 4 bins that hold EVERYTHING students will need for that activity.
Need 10 counters they’re in the bin in bag.  Need a dry erase marker and eraser?  It’s there.  Need directions?  The directions sheet is there written in kid-friendly language.  The only thing I don’t put in are pencils and crayons because these are easily accessible everywhere in my room.  Putting in everything needed to do the activity was GENIUS on my part!  (Yeah, I’m sure that seems obvious to many of you, but for me it was an “a-ha!” moment.)  Each student in that center takes a bin and brings it to where they are working and gets started right away.  (Of course, they do.. don’t all kids do that?)  The activities in these bins are very self-explanatory.  They are also often activities we have done as a whole class, so students are familiar with them.
     Same ideas as math boxes, but the games are in a plastic bag marked with how many students can do the game at once.
I try to stick to partner games.  It’s easier to have just 2 kiddos playing one game.  And again, EVERYTHING they need to play is in the bag dice, spinners, playing pieces, etc.  And, again, they are often games we have played before so they are familiar.  (And one of them just HAS to be a BUMP game what is it with my kids and BUMP?  You would think they would get tired of that format, but nope. change the skill and switch out the clipart and whamo! - brand new game for them.)
    I am lucky enough to have a Smartboard and two Ipads in my classroom.  Two students use the Smartboard (there are a ton of great math sites out there try ABCya.com   for some good games), and 1-2 use each ipad (depending on how many are in the group that day).  If you’re looking for some ways on how to use ipads (or just ONE ipad) in your classroom, you can check out my post here.  I have lots of math apps that are perfect for second graders.  This is a hot center and there are always cheers of “Woo-hoo! I get to do math technology today!” from those in the group.
     I admit, I mailed it in on the name for this center.  It’s really kind of a mish-mash (hmmm.. maybe “Math Mish-Mash” would be better!), but it focuses on independent practice of skills and concepts we have taught.  Sometimes it’s a work sheet (gasp!, yes, I know put down the tomatoes), sometimes it’s a “read the room” review, sometimes it’s a problem solving journal activity and sometimes it’s another center like in math boxes because I had too many good ones and someone needs to do it if I printed it and cut it and laminated it . . .
     Now, I should tell you there are usually two adults in the room at this time, myself and another grade 2 teacher who rotates between my room and the other math centers room.  At the beginning I felt like I should be taking a group and actually TEACHING something at this time, but I knew that I would be able to do more by just moving from group to group and talking with the kids.  And that has definitely been the case.  By moving around and asking questions, I’ve heard some great math thinking, clarified some major misconceptions I may never have seen and helped students develop strategies.  I would not have been able to do this if I had a group during this time.

     Some of you may have noticed I have only 4 centers and there are 5 days in a week (you picked up on that, didn’t you, smart one?).  Well, one day sometimes gets missed for assemblies, snow days, special projects, and general life in an elementary school.  I’ve only been doing this for 3 weeks and we’ve only had a 5 day centers time once. So on the 5th day we did an activity altogether (Scoot, Read the Room, card game, smartboard game).  Even though consistency is good, I like to switch things up, too! 

     That’s it!  I usually change everything out every 2-3 weeks.  The good thing is since there is more than one activity in each center, and students go to that center only one time a week, they can do a different activity at the same center the next time they are there.  I hope my very loooonnng explanation has given you some ideas to use in your classroom.  And as a thank you for sticking around until the end, here’s my “Subtraction Snowman BUMP” math games activity I’ll be using this week.  Click on the image below to download it.

 I finally feel like I've gotten our math intervention time figured out - at least the centers part. I hope my ideas help you.


  1. Lisa, Great Post! It's amazing how organization makes our classrooms run! I love all your tips and ideas...and my kiddos will LOVE a new BUMP Game! Thanks!

  2. Okay I really love this! I have really struggled with my kiddos do math centers this year as well. We also have 30 minute intervention blocks at the beginning and end of the day. I think this would be a perfect fit for me! I always feel like I am scrambling to find something for them. Thanks for the ideas!

    Teachery Tidbits

  3. Can you explain the rotation chart. What does plan mean at the bottom and the () after names? what did you use to assess for math and reading? I would love to implement this at our school? Would you be able to help me by phone or email?

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  5. Hi Lisa! Thanks for the window into your day! Isn't it amazing how many little details go into just 30 minutes of a school day!


    Not very fancy