I can’t tell you how many times I have heard teachers say:
“I don’t do math centers. Too much planning.”
“Who has time to do this everyday?”
“My kids can’t handle math centers.”
“Centers are too noisy.”
What if I told you that you can run successful centers everyday with minor planning and that your kids will behave?
What if I told you you can get kids to learn more during math centers than by doing 60 minute whole group lessons?
Here are some tips to get you started doing math centers successfully:
Start the first day of school
Don’t delay it. Kids need to know its part of their routine.
Practice Practice Practice
Practice until you are satisfied.
Rehearse the way you want students to work in each station.
Rehearse the way you want them to transition.
Rehearse the way you want them to talk to each other.
Rehearse what to do if 1) they need materials 2) they need assistance 3) they need the bathroom 4) they finish early.
Rehearse how to set up and clean up. Who gets the materials? Who puts them away? Where do they go?
Rehearse the jobs of each team member.
Rehearse until you are satisfied.
Trust me! This works. Do not skip this step. Spend a week or two or three rehearsing exactly how you want it to look and stop them the second they do it differently than your expectations. They will do it and they will do it correctly.
I have seen teachers spend an entire period rehearsing transitions. It might seen like such a waste of time but it is so worth it when they finally get it and then you can spend an entire year with flawless transitions and plenty of oohs and aahs from administrators when you get observed. Plus it saves your sanity. During this rehearsal period DO NOT sit with a small group. Walk around making sure students are following the rules and expectations. When you feel centers look and sound to your satisfaction, start running your teacher small group.
Organize your materials
This might seem overwhelming at first but once you have your materials organized in folders, baskets, boxes, or whichever method you choose, you and your students can enjoy the benefits. Label everything and make the students clean up after each use.
I like to keep math centers similar. Such as a game center, a technology center, a task card or worksheet center, and the teacher small group center. This way, it is easy to switch out the content depending on the skill we are learning or need to review but the expectation and routines of that center stay intact.
Make it fun
Math stations should be fun. Students should look forward to math centers. The activities you choose should be rigorous but also fun for them and allow then to collaborate.
Yes, they should be talking. This is the part that teachers are terrified of. The noise! But this is why you practice, Practice noise levels and respectful communications. This needs to be modeled over and over until they nail it.
I hope these tips were helpful. Let me know of you do math centers and how you make them successful.