Several years ago, I would have considered myself to be an anti-centers teacher. I liked the idea of them, but I could not make them work in my classroom. I tried really hard my first couple of years teaching, but they added so much work for me, and I wasn't confident that my students were getting anything out of them, so I gave it up. I taught math through the traditional workshop approach with a mini lesson, work time, and closing, and I was happy with what I was doing. Then a few summers ago Debbie Diller's Math Work Stations was all the rage, and I felt like I was the only teacher in the world who hadn't read it and that didn't feel successful at centers, so I gave it a try.
I was a little skeptical, because it was written for K-2 grade, and I've always felt like I was more of an upper elementary teacher. However, I did find a lot of ideas that I could adapt to make work stations work for my classroom, and I learned a ton about procedures and organization. There was a lot of trial and error my first year implementing math work stations, but it quickly became one of my favorite parts of my math instruction. I've posted pieces of how I run my math work stations, and I'm going to try to address some of the questions I've been asked over the years. Let me know if I leave anything out, and I'll add it!
- When do you use math work stations?
- How long are your work stations?
- How do you group your students?
- How many station activities do you have?
- How do you organize who goes to what station?
- What activities are in your stations?
- How do you organize your stations?
- How long do you leave your activities out?
- How do you organize the activities that you're not currently using?
I've tried a variety of strategies, and right now I like to keep everything organized in small stackable storage tubs. It does take up a little space, but I love being able to see everything in one place. It makes changing stations very easy for me. I will say that I don't keep station activities that I don't use or plan to use. If I don't love it, I don't keep it. This summer I plan to make cute labels, but for now, a Sharpie will have to do. (I have several more tubs on the shelf below). I try to group them by 9-weeks.
- What do I do during work stations?
At the beginning of the year, even though I REALLY want to hurry up and start, I don't have small groups. I just walk around and monitor to make sure everyone is following the correct procedures. This is always hard for me, because I'm busting to start small group, but it pays off in the long run. Once everything is running smoothly, I start meeting small groups. This is one of the big reasons why I ability group, because it makes it so much easier to be able meet with both students in a group, rather than constantly splitting up partners. It doesn't always work perfectly and sometimes students do have to work alone for one rotation.
- How do you hold your students accountable?
- How do you challenge your higher learners?
- How do you start the year?
Remember, let me know what I've left out, and I'll see what I can do!