Feb 2, 2015

Math Monday: Math Stations and Rotations

I have honestly wanted to do math centers and small group math for years and just never found the time or resources. I think this is a horrible, stupid excuse now that I have started them and realized how AWESOME it is and how EASY it is! Why didn't I do this sooner!?

Well, for one thing, the past 7 years, I had a much shorter math block scheduled into my day. This year I have started at a new school and we have 80-90 minutes for math each day. At first, when I thought of how I had "always" taught math, I didn't know what I would do with all of this time!!

I kept telling myself, as I have for years, that I love how my reading block goes. Short whole group, then teaching the bulk/meat of my lesson in small groups and having the kids rotate through workstations.

Although I feel good about my rotations and groups, I know this is a work in progress and I plan to work on being more precise and differentiating even more. I'm just proud that I have it GOING!

I copied this rotation schedule from my teaching teammate, Michelle. Genius plan. I'll tell you why later. 

My four groups are lowest to highest math level. Group one is lowest/needs most help and Group 4 is the highest math level/most independent. 

This is the same rotation, everyday.

We use Envisions math. Although I'm not a huge fan, I use it for my whole group lesson usually. I start my math block with whole group teaching of the lesson. I try to limit this to 15-20 minutes. I used to teach the whole thing whole group...agh! Why!?

The rotations I use the baseline of 12 minutes per rotation, but sometimes if I get through my group fast or the kids are totally getting it, some groups go longer/shorter than others. Usually if one goes a little longer and needs more help, it works out that another group is really grasping it and the times always work out. I set a timer, but for the most part, I'm just having to go past it or stop it early. It's just a basic guideline.

Here are some reasons this works so well:

Group 4 is independent, so they start at the seat work and don't need much help from me. They get enough from the short whole group lesson that they can get right to work on the assignment. These would be the kids that during my LOOOONNNGGG whole group lesson in the past, they would be working ahead and bored. Now, they don't have to be bored, they can get what they need in 15-20 minutes, then get right to work without wasting any time. Sometimes it's only 10 min!

Group 1 needs the most help, so it's best to start with them, when I can give them the most time. I always figure that if I get to groups 1-3 and give them a lot of help and for some reason I can't get to group 4, then that's okay. But, that hasn't even happened yet! I have made it to every group, every day!

The other good thing about this is the order. After teacher table, they have "learned" even more from me, so they head to their seats to do the seat work that corresponds with today's lesson. Then after seat work is computers/ipads. SOOOOO, if need be, you can hold this over their head a little bit. If they mess around at seat work station, don't finish what they needed to, they don't go to the next station of computers, they just keep working. (It works!) This order is the same for everyone, even the highest group. They start at seat work, so again, if they mess around, they don't go to computers. 

As for the computers/iPad. We have four student laptops in our room. I utilize those four, plus my teacher laptop, plus my teacher iPad. From the beginning, for each group, I assigned who would be on each computer and laptop everyday. I have a trustworthy student in each group that always is on my laptop, and they sit near me on the floor while using it. (I have to code in for each kid, etc.) It works well! I like having them assigned to computers for some obvious reasons. SAVES TIME (isn't it all about saving time!?) and they aren't arguing over who gets to be on my laptop or my iPad. I chose at beginning who uses them, period. Argument over. :)

Math games on the left, Computers in middle, iPad on right
Teacher Table on bottom left, Envisions seat work top right, and Math Game choices bottom right

Some reasons that I LOVE my new math stations and my whole new way of teaching math:

I KNOW exactly what my kids know. I DID NOT KNOW that before. I may have thought I did, but I didn't. Honestly, I did not and I'm admitting it now. I realize now that I'm teaching like this! Now that I meet with 4-6 kids at a time, I know which kids can regroup, which kids are having trouble, which kids forget to regroup the tens place, which kids forget to add the third number, etc. Tons of details I can tell you, off the top of my head because they are right in my face working, not playing in their desks, staring out the window, copying their neighbor, or just trying to keep up with a smile on their face. They are right at this tiny table with me and I can see their wheels turning, I can see their mistakes and correct them instantly. I don't have to wonder who is paying attention, who is catching on, or be surprised later when someone totally bombs the test.

I also love it because it doesn't feel like I have to "use my voice" so much. I mean, I am talking just as long...but I'm not talking OVER other kids or having to use my LOUD teaching voice.

I love it because by the fourth group, I'm an expert at explaining how to do things and I can literally see the progress throughout the rotation of kids "catching on"!

I love it because I can SIT for the four groups. Lazy? Yes. Smart? Yes! It's just a more relaxing setting for me.

I also love it because I can look around the room and see 4-6 kids working at their seats, spread around the room, then I see 4-6 kids "plugged in" to laptops and ipads on MobyMax math, then another group playing fun math games together. Honestly, the room is QUIET!!! The only kids MAYBE talking are the ones playing math games and the ones right at my group. It's glorious!!! I'm honestly in love.

I should also add that after the rotations, I do also make time to give students a graded "Quick Check" at the end of the lesson, to check their understanding for the day. I use the quick checks that are included with Envisions, but I'm sure you have our own in place.

I will work on getting some better pictures of the process and have another post about my math stations!!!


  1. Thank you for sharing! It helps to see what someone else is doing that works :-)

  2. My district uses Envisions as well. My question is how do you check the seat work Envisions page? Do you correct it together as a class, is there an answer key or do you collect it to check? I try to limit the number of papers I collect in a day because I will get bogged down with grading. Great ideas...I can't wait to implement!

    1. Honestly, I don't. Those are practice sheets in my eyes. I collect and grade the quick checks after our whole math block of "practice." Usually, I try to walk around and check the quick checks as they complete them, write down the score on my clipboard, then hand them back to either fix or take home. I hate taking home papers toO!!!!!!!

  3. Thank you for sharing! This is my first year having time for math groups and I'm really enjoying the way I've gotten to know my children as mathematicians! However, it's what the other children are doing that makes it challenging! I'm going to try this out for the remainder of the year! Hopefully it goes well and I'll start off next year ready!

  4. Thanks for this! I have struggled with Math Centers for a while. They became required in my school 2 years ago and have tried a couple of different ideas. This is so simple! I can't wait to implement this!

  5. I was reading on the Moby Max website. So do you like it? Do you get to assign specific tasks related to the lessons each unit or do they just work through the program?

  6. This is such a simple but brilliant way to incorporate centers into Math; I always seem to find a way to make them more complicated than they need to be.

    Question - My lowest students are often unable to do many of the problems; for your students like that, do you work with them on more basic addition/subtraction problems and have them do that as their seat work rather than the "regular" assignment?

    1. Well, I haven't started yet this year, but I'm thinking back to last year's kids. I would usually start the regular assignment with them and kind of make sure they understood before they left the table. Also, luckily, I happened to have as asst come into my room during part of this time, so she would help a few stay on track. But there were many times I did it with nobody in the room and it still went very well! I think it'd be fine to have them do something that is more of a "reteaching". I think it's up to you. Do their regular assignment w/ them in the group, then give them easier stuff at their seat. That's what I would do if mine couldn't do it on their own! I hope that once you do this, they WILL be able to do it on their own though. In my opinion, the key to all of this is doing it in the order I showed, with your lowest group as 1 and highest as 4. That way, you have more time at beginning w/ low and you can skip high at end if you absolutely have to, or less time w/ them. Also, they always do seatwork RIGHT after meeting w/ you, so they don't forget. I hope this helps. I just put a revised printable poster in my TPT store and it's free tonight! Check it out!

    2. Thanks for the response! I like your plan. I'm really excited to try this out this year!!!

  7. We will be starting envisions next year. When you do the whole group instruction what exactly are you going over? Then what are you doing when you meet with them? Things from envisions? What games do you use on the iPads? I'm trying to get small groups done in my room $ this set up looks good. Any other information you can give me would greatly be appreciated. Thank you.