Monday, December 5, 2011

How Do You Do Math Centers?

We all have strengths and weaknesses. My strength (in my opinion) is my reading work stations. They rock. I have so many great resources and ideas for so many more. They run smoothly (most days) and my students truly enjoy spending time at their work stations.
My math centers, on the other hand, leave much to be desired. I actually like teaching math (most days), but ever since we changed to Everyday Math for our curriculum, my math centers have suffered. EM jumps around so much that it makes it very difficult to "reinforce" things that you haven't hit very hard. I also struggle with the fact that my math centers time is also my pull-out time for my special ed and gifted students. I feel like I have to cram in the "important" math stuff into the whole group hour of math. I hate that a chunk of my students miss out on math centers each day, but there are just some things I don't have a whole lot of control over.
I typically have 5 centers going each week (sometimes 4 if it's a short week). I try to have each group working on a variety of activities and mix it up with individual and group / partner activities.

Here are some of the things that we do in our math centers:

Word Problem Cards - Have bought these problem solving cards from Lakeshore over the summer because one of my teaching colleagues uses them and we all know that kids can always get better at word problems! I have the kids write in a math notebook and show their work. I usually put 4 or 5 cards in the basket each week and then have the kids write their own word problems when they are done. - This is one of my favorite websites for math practice. I love it because it's self-checking and I can just walk around and see on the screen how the kids are doing. I have the students do these either with partners or on their own and set a goal for the percent correct for that day. (For example, if they're doing subtraction with regrouping and it's review I might require 90% correct or better. If it's something new I may just look for 75 or 80% correct to start.)

Take It To Your Seat Folder Games - These folder games are awesome. I have a 2-3 set and a 3-4 set, so I have a lot of skills and topics to choose from. Assembling these can be a little time consuming, but it's worth it in the long run. (This has been a summer project.) The kids work in their small groups to complete the activity.

Everyday Math Games - Our math series has a lot of games built into the lessons, but I'm pretty awful at fitting in time during the whole group math block to play games. I've found, though, that if I teach the kids how to play games during the whole group time they're pretty good about being able to play them during their math centers. I usually give them a choice of 2 or 3 games so that they're not stuck playing the same thing for the entire centers block.

Basic Facts Practice - One thing that I really feel our kids lack is knowledge of their basic math facts (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). I try to give them opportunities to practice their facts in different ways. is a great website for math practice in all areas, but I do really like it for this because it shows how many problems they've answered in a certain amount of time. I also use some of the EM games to for this practice as well. Some weeks we just to plain 'ol math drills and timed tests, too.

State Assessment Prep - Math centers is a great opportunity to work on state assessment skills that our curriculum doesn't hit very hard. I've made a lot of practice sheets of my own that hit our tested indicators and the state provides practice tests online that I have the students complete during their center time as well.

Other Lakeshore (and Dollar Tree) Math Games - I've had pretty good luck getting some center activities and games on clearance from Lakeshore. A few of my games I've purchased at half price or less! I like Lakeshore's activities because they're ususally pretty engaging and work on specific skills. Dollar Tree has also pleasantly surprised me with their selection of math (and reading) games and activities. It seems to be hit and miss there, but I always check their supply whenever I go in!

Accelerated Math - Many of you are probably familiar with Accelerated Reader, well ACC Math is by the same company. I assign the students with objectives and the computer prints out assignments over those objectives. The students then fill out scan cards and I have a little scanner hooked up that grades the assignments. Based on their performance they either continue practicing those objectives or move onto other skills. There's a lot more to it than that, but that's the gist of it. I love that it does the grading for me, plus most of the kids actually like doing it because it's kind of "grown up" work.

Dice Games - EM has some games with dice and some I've made up on the spot, but we seem to be doing a lot with dice these days. They're very easy games and dice are so cheap and easy to get ahold of. Basic dice can be found at Dollar Tree and the more unique ones (9 sided, double digit, etc.) can usually be found a teacher supply store or resource center. Here are a few websites for ideas: and

I organize all of the materials into colored baskets from Dollar Tree. The chart on our front wall lists the students names, their basket color, and what center they're at. It's super easy to manage and stay fairly well organized!

Well, there you have it. I wouldn't say my math centers are the best or the worst, but there's room for added improvement. Things get stepped up a lot after Christmas break as we draw closer to state assessments. I usually get to complete a wish list of items I want before the end of the school year and I have a few new math items on my watch list. I love getting the kids engaged in math. I think if I'd had a lot of these activities when I was in school I would have enjoyed math a lot more than I did. I was one of those kids who got by and did well in math, but hated every minute of it! I don't want my students to feel that way about anything I teach!

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure how many computers you have available but I'd recommend for basic skill practice. The creators of these games do a great job at making basic practice a load of fun.

    We use Manga Math ( a lot in my 6th grade class. It might be a little too advanced for third grade. Also, check out the math section of our class wiki ( for more math ideas.

    Best of luck!


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