Earlier this week, I shared how I have been working on personalizing learning in my math classes. This change came about because I was challenged to teach math in a multi-age setting but has led to some great discoveries that have helped me improve math instruction for all of my learners whether they are in a single grade or a multi-age setting.

Today I want to talk about math centers. Math centers, also known as math stations, guided math, workplaces or math menu really can help with differentiation and personalizing learning. Despite the fact that there are many names, strategies and ways to do math centers, their central purpose is to provide students with differentiated practice so that learners are engaged and occupied, freeing the teacher up to meet with small groups and provide further targeted instruction or enrichment to those who need it. It also solves the age old question of what to do with early finishers.

Math centers have long been popular in the primary grades in many schools and have been mostly absent in upper elementary and middle school. At my school, we have been doing some version of math centers in K-2 for as long as I can remember. In grades 3&4 there has been some sporadic math center activity and at the 5th and 6th grade level, we have had very little math center time. All of that has changed over the past 2 years and now all of our learners K-6 participate in math centers in one form or another. Our younger students participate in something closer to guided math and our older students' model looks more like math menu.

I have found math centers are most successful when kids can be offered choices. There are many things you can either require or give choices for depending on the age of your students and the behaviors in the group.

#### Who To Work With

Students work in pairs at a table playing one version of Movin' it Math |

Many of your math centers will involve games or activities that lend themselves well to kids having chances to socially construct their knowledge. Who a student works with can be something you choose for them or that you let them choose for themselves. This is one of the areas where I am least likely to offer kids the chance to choose. I almost always choose groups or pairs for my students. As they get a bit older, I might offer them some limited choices about who they work with. I find a lot more work gets done during math centers when I make intentional decisions about who is working together.

I do want kids to work with a variety of other students. I want them to have a chance to work with kids of similar academic ability sometimes but other times, I want them to work with someone who may have stronger or weaker skills in math. I find that when I try only to group for academics, behaviors deteriorate quickly. I also believe that kids learn so much from each other and do my best to facilitate this learning among kids of all ability levels.

#### What Level To Work On

Each of my math centers contains the same activity at multiple levels (I will be writing a full blog post about this soon!). I almost always allow students to choose the level of the activity they are working on. I do quite a bit of intentional teaching around choosing a level and find kids do very well choosing the just right activity for them.

#### Which Activity to Work On

If you are offering several different math center options, you can decide which ones everyone has to do and which are optional. You can let kids choose the activities and the order or you can pick who does which activity when. In this area, my classes are kind of all over the map. In general, the older students are the more choice I offer them in terms of which activity they want to do and the order they want to do them in. With my upper elementary students, I often have a short list of "have-to's" and then a longer list of "get-to's".

The younger the students are and the wilder the class' behavior, the more I assign them a task and/or set a timer for when it is time to go onto the next class. With my most challenging behavior classes, or when math centers are new to a group, I make more of the choices for them. As the year progresses, I transfer responsibility of the choice more and more to the students.

#### Where to Work

On a beautiful day we may even take math centers outside! |

My classroom has several large tables in the center, some desks along the perimeter and plenty of wide open space on the carpet. While I often set math centers up on the tables, my students will often make a choice to work on the floor nearby or at one of the desks on the perimeter, particularly if they are working independently. This is another area that I feel like kids in general make good choices. I almost always let kids choose where to work and only very rarely will I have to ask someone to move to a different spot. The variety of sitting a table, standing at a table and working on the floor seems to help keep my students engaged.

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