Making math stations work in 40-minute class periods
I taught elementary school for 12 years and I loved my math centers (or math stations, as you might call them)! They were great. Math class was always an hour, and we had five computers in the classroom, so having a computer center was always an option.
Then I moved to middle school. Math class was 44 minutes (minus time for switching classes.....so more like 40 minutes). How could I fit more than two math station rotations in a 40-minute period?? I longed for block scheduling (our district has never had it)...that would make it so much easier to complete math center rotations! For the first year or two of middle school, I kind of gave up on the idea of math centers...the activities I wanted students to complete took longer than 20 minutes. So, that would be enough time to finish two math station rotations, IF students started the second they walked in the door and then had no time to clean up/organize at the end of class. But eventually I needed to get my math centers back, so I experimented with a few different set-ups before I landed on a structure that works.
I willingly admit that I have not found a perfect solution....40 minutes is just too short a time-period for math class! However, I've figured out what works for me, and maybe it can work for you, if you also have short math classes.
My math centers are:
* One per day
* 30 minutes a day
* For 3-4 days, depending on the topic.
There are many ways to group and assign tasks, but these are the grouping/activity options I normally stick to:
1) When we only do three days, I create six groups and prepare two sets of materials for some tasks. Students will all complete three tasks over the course of the three days, but they might not all complete the same three...it depends on the topic, their needs, and my goals. The image to the right has two different examples of how I might assign the tasks.
2) When we do four days, I create four to six groups (if my class size is the usual 27-30). If I have only four groups, I usually assign them each a different task and then rotate through those tasks over the four days. If I have five or six, then I'll have two groups complete the same task on the same day, similar to the three-day example.
My math students are not ability-grouped, so they finish activities at various times. I decided that I have to be happy with some students/groups finishing early and others not finishing (or finishing during a free, non-math period). Doing one math center a day, for about 30 minutes allows for some flexibility here. If group members finish early, they can do the following:
1) Finish another center activity, if they had something unfinished.
2) Complete a math color by number from our "finished early" resource bin.
3) Use the math trivia cards - a set that isn't one of the center activities. (click here to grab this free resource!)
4) Use the pentominoes that we use on the first day of math class - there are always students who want to complete this challenge.
5) Use a technology source for additional math practice, if we have extras available.
Before We Use Math Centers
Before we start using math center rotations, I make sure students have a complete understanding of expected behavior AND of the activities they'll be completing. We complete the different activities together with different concepts at the beginning of the year, and then I use those activities in the centers, using some of the same ones each time.
1) Footloose task cards:
Students are up and around the room for this, so I typically assign only one or two groups per day. (I've added a bunch of Google Slides versions of these for more options:-)
2) Math Truth or Dare Game
(with paper and pencil):
This version is a group game, so I only assign one group per day, for less "noise" in the room. They have to talk, and they definitely have fun with this one!
OR Google Truth or Dare:
I created a digital version. This allows two different groups to complete the same activity, but one group can use whatever technology we have available. This version could be played by group members independently or in teams.
I have these on a website now too = more options!
3) Color by Number:
This is a quiet activity that provides some self-checking practice. Students can also check answers with their group members if they'd like. (They often don't finish the coloring during the center time, so I have them complete all the problems first and then color....they can come back to the coloring if they finish an activity early on another day.) Again, I've added some digital versions of these....great for students who are absent.
4) Math Wheel:
I use this as a teacher-guided center sometimes, but I can also use the wheels as an independent center for review - students can copy the notes and complete the practice on their own. Coloring is similar to color by number - that part is last and they can return to it later. These get added to students' binders to keep for the year, so they can finish coloring any time they finish something early.
5) Problem Solving:
I make this a collaborative center (I love when students have math conversations!), but it could be independent work.
6) Math Trivia Cards:
This is a fun activity to practice more general knowledge, with less calculation involved. Students can just quiz each other and share correct answers, or they can record their answers to be checked later. I have three sets so far - Numbers and Operations, Geometry, and Algebraic Concepts (link to download them is above.)
As you can see, some of the center rotations require students to work together, while others allow them to work independently. I like to have this mix, so students can share ideas and solving methods but also have time to work with the concepts and skills on their own. I also like to compare the work they did alone with the work they completed with others.
What to Do With Finished Work
When students complete a center assignment, I have them put that assignment into a specific tray in my classroom. I go through the trays at the end of each day and use my checklist to record who's handed in their work.
I do grade all of the math center activities....sometimes it takes me quite a while!!
Math Center Sets
I have sets of 4-5 math center activities for each of the topics below, so these are the ones I use/have used. I don't use all of them every year (because, time!). I pick and choose based on student needs, time of year, etc. If you're interested in trying any of them, click the titles to see them in my TPT store. (I have 2-3 activities for many other topics, but won't bundle those until I have 4-5.)
Area and Perimeter
Fractions, Decimals, Percents
Mean, Median, Mode, Range
Order of Operations
Percent of a Number
Ratios and Proportions
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Hey there! I'm Ellie - here to share math fun, best practices, and engaging, challenging, easy-prep activities ideas!