Math Center Set-Up & Organization


With the start of the school year rapidly approaching, I thought it would be the perfect time to talk to y'all all about how I set up my math centers.  This seems to be a frequent question I'm asked.  Let me just tell y'all that by NO means do I think I have it all figured out.   I just want to share what's worked for me over the last 13 years in the classroom.  As with anything, you have to find what works best for you as a teacher and what best fits the needs of your kids.  What works for me may not work for you.  What works for me one year might not work for me the next...especially considering the dynamics of my classroom.  I'm hoping this peek into my set-up helps you with yours!  




I like to organize my centers into 5 different tubs and they're all based on the math objectives we learn throughout the year. Here's how it breaks down...


Because I start with the end in mind, I know exactly how many weeks of formal instruction my kids will be getting on certain skills and I can see what's most important based on how long my kids get to learn/master each concept.   Setting up consistent centers helps me ensure that my kids will get ample opportunities for review and practice in concepts that may be lacking in formal instruction.  For example, if I know my kids only get two weeks of formal instruction in one-to-one correspondence and that's a skill they'll need to build a good foundation in numeracy, I can make sure to plan independent center activities that will engage them in opportunities to practice that skill throughout the year.  My kids are constantly practicing and reviewing those key concepts in their centers even if we're not formally working on those concepts during whole group.  Does that make sense?!


This is an example of how my math tubs are set up.


Each tub is labeled 1-5.  Each activity includes the hands-on piece, a recording sheet for assessment (if applicable), and manipulatives needed to complete the activity (so they aren't constantly getting up and grabbing things off the shelf...helps keep them on task and focused!)


I let my kids choose their own centers/stations during our literacy block, but I like for math to be a little bit more structured.  I mostly do this to ensure I have mixed abilities working together.  This is just a little example of what that might look like on my rotation board.



You've probably noticed that I don't have a dedicated rotation for small group guided math.  True!  I don't.  I've had a dedicated rotation for small group in the past and LOVED it when I taught 2nd grade.  I also had a dedicated rotation for small group when I taught Kindergarten, but I switched that up to give myself more freedom for intervention.   I just found that in K & 1 I really liked the flexibility of being able to pull kids to work with me as needed and without being tied to a dedicated roation, I was able to pull kids and work with them as long as I needed instead of just for a specific amount of time.  Sometimes it was easier for me to work with kids one-on-one.  Sometimes a small group was necessary.  Just depended on the day. This set-up is especially great for those days...uh, weeks...when we have to do benchmarks and testing.  

Speaking of benchmarks and testing, here's how I know which kids need to be pulled and how often I need to pull them.  

The picture on the left is how I keep my tubs organized.  The colored stickies on the left side of the file folder identify the high/medium/low kiddos.  The pink stickies on the right side of that same file folder show my groups.  My groups are constantly changing through the year and using stickies helps me to quickly move them around as needed.  As you can see, visually organizing my kids into their high/medium/low groups first then helps me to divide them into their math tub groups heterogeneously.

The two pictures on the right show how I organize my intervention groups.  The white labels indicate the objective/skill in which my kids have not yet mastered. I take the data from our benchmarks to identify the kids who need intervention and then place their names next to those labels (of the skills they haven't mastered) so that I can quickly identify who I need to pull for one-on-one or small group activities during math tubs.  

You probably also noticed that I assign my kids to anchor activities/fast finishers.  These are activities they can work on when they are finished with their math tubs.  The number on the rotation board corresponds with the number on the fast finisher/anchor activity tub.  I have several of those tubs labeled with the same numbers to give my kids more options and ensure that they aren't arguing over which activity they get to do.  They know that only two kids are allowed to be at one activity at a time and this really worked well (for this dynamic of kids).



Speaking of fast finishers/anchor activities, here's a fun idea I implemented into my class years ago that helps keep my kids on track and focused during when they're visiting these activities.  


The idea behind "Beat the Timer" is for your students to finish an activity before the timer runs out.  This works especially great for any kind of puzzle that you might keep available for the kids to solve.  Just set out the little sand timers (you can get them from the Dollar Tree) and have our kids grab one before starting their activity.  If they can complete the activity before the timer runs out, they get to sign their name in the "Beat the Timer" notebook.  If not, they can try again.   Sounds a little cheesy, but it's proved to be a great management tool over the years!



Now let's get back to the math tubs.  One important thing to remember when planning activities for your math centers....NEVER expect your kids to do something independently you haven't practiced in depth first.  Basically, don't plan any new concepts for independent practice until you've reviewed and practiced as a group for at least a week.  This, of course, is based on my prior experience!  #hadtolearnthehardway #iwantthosekidsbacksoIcanapologize ;)
We want to set them up for success...and we don't want to cause any additional struggle for ourselves. The more familiar they are with the concept, the less redirection they'll need when it comes time for independent practice.  When I introduce a new skill/concept, we work on that concept for a week (whole group) and then take those activities and put them in the math tubs the following week so that they're familiar with them.   



For the first two weeks of the school year, it's all about establishing routines and procedures.  For my K babies, we're exploring manipulatives.  I want them to be able to "play" with our math tools and learn the routine before I expect them to use the materials appropriately.  For my 1st graders, we're doing the same thing, but I'm also throwing in several review activities to assess their ability to work independently on various skills.  Establishing routines and procedures is far more important than planning activities that are heavily academic.  If the management isn't in place, the behavior & learning won't be either.


Now let's talk about how I organize these activities.  I seem to get this question a lot, too.  Once it's all created and used where do I store it?!  Material management is a struggle!!!  Especially when storage and space is limited.   After my kids work with the activities, I place them in either a 9x12 tabbed envelope or a gallon sized Ziplock baggie.  There's no rhyme or reason to either...just what I have available when it's time to store.  If I'm placing them inside the 9x12 tabbed envelopes, I will label it with the month in which the activity is used, the name of the activity, and then the author of the activity. This is especially helpful if I've purchased something off TpT.  Sometimes my kids will lose a piece of the activity and I'll need to print extra the following year.  Instead of spending time aimlessly looking for those files on my computer, I know exactly where to find them.   If I place them in a Ziplock, I will place a label on top of the baggie or write out a note to myself that goes inside the baggie.  

Once the activities are placed in their envelopes/baggies, they're then stored in either my filing cabinet or my monthly drawers.   My filing cabinets are organized by subject.  My drawers are organized by month.  Since I thematically plan my centers/tubs, this type of filing and organization works great for me. 


To take it a step further, I also write down the name of the activity and the location (filing cabinet, monthly drawers, etc.) in my planning binder.  I take this binder to our team planning meetings so that I can visually see exactly what I have when it's time to plan...then I know exactly where I need to find those materials.  Again, just a little something to help me with my time management ;)  Just ignore the handwriting...YIKES!


Whew!  I *think* that covers it.  Of course, if you still have questions, don't hesitate to leave me a comment and let me know!!  



In other news, if you have my Solve & Stamp Sight Word Bundle, go back into your downloads to find the most recent addition....Solve & Stamp Sight Word FIRST GRADE mysteries.  Just added it to the bundle last night!  




10 comments:

  1. Hi Cara,

    I love following your blog. You have the most creative ideas. I was just wondering if you are going to be back in the classroom this year.

    Beverly

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  2. Thanks so much, Beverly!! So sweet of you to say! I will not be in the classroom this year :) It was a hard decision not to return, but I feel God telling me to stay where I am. I'll be presenting again this year and mentoring local area teachers :) I sure do miss the classroom, but goodness...I LOVE working with teachers!!!!

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  3. Thanks so much, Beverly!! So sweet of you to say! I will not be in the classroom this year :) It was a hard decision not to return, but I feel God telling me to stay where I am. I'll be presenting again this year and mentoring local area teachers :) I sure do miss the classroom, but goodness...I LOVE working with teachers!!!!

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  4. I love this!! So going to do this with my Kinders!

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  5. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS!!! Sorry for the caps but I needed some help with my math centers and this was so informative. I'm going into my second year of teaching and everything is just so overwhelming. I'm looking forward to using these tips to help me plan my centers more efficiently this year!

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  6. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS!!! Sorry for the caps but I needed some help with my math centers and this was so informative. I'm going into my second year of teaching and everything is just so overwhelming. I'm looking forward to using these tips to help me plan my centers more efficiently this year!

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  7. Hi Cara,

    Thank you for this! I want to start math stations in my class this year BUT did not have a clue where to even begin! This is such a great help. For me I need to know exactly how I'm going to organize something and my procedures for it before I jump head first into it. I have LOTS of work to do!

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  8. Just finding your blog and now I want to change how I do math block!! I was moved from K to 1st this year and I continued doing a 3 group rotation, but I like how you have this set up. May need to get the OK to switch, but I think it will really help with finding that time to work with couple who need just me to work on skills. Very creative! Thank you.

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  9. I absolutely love your math tub idea! I teach half day kinder and we only have 30 minutes to teach math and do a small group rotation. You ideas have really helped me figure out how to make this possible. Do you by change sell your rotation board? It is super cute! I think it would be simple of my binders to understand as well. Let me know. Thanks!

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