Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Math Work Stations

It is not uncommon for elementary teachers to feel more comfortable in teaching language arts. Think about how you could build upon those strengths in your math instruction. There are several parallels among language arts and math. I discover more and more every single day as I work with coaches, teachers and leaders who have a passion and love for language arts. How can you relate math fact fluency to spelling words and/or reading, writer's workshop to problem solving and literacy work stations to math work stations?

So, what is a work station?
"Math work stations are a time for children to practice problem solving while reasoning, representing, communicating, and making connections among mathematical topics as the teacher observes and interacts with individuals at work or meets with a small group for differentiated math instruction." Math Work Stations: Independent Learning You Can Count On, by Debbie Diller.

These differ from traditional learning "centers" where all students do the same exact activity, many times without even experiencing it in class first. These were almost extra things to do when you "finished your work".

Work stations are REAL work. Materials are differentiated based on student level of math understanding. All students should work on something that brings them to the edge of their understanding, even if they work on the same concept for a few weeks. This might mean that you have students working on lots of different things!

What does the teacher do during this time?
The teacher role is usually one of two things; observing children at work or meeting with a small group.
Lots of beneficial information can be gathered by observing what children are doing. Take anecdotal notes! What choices do they make? How are they counting? How are they reasoning? Are they making conjectures? Are they ready for the next step? Do they know if they are ready for the next step? Use this valuable information to structure your small groups and future work stations. 

How are these related to literacy work stations?
Many of the same ways you structure your literacy work stations by using some type of gradual release model can be used in setting up your math work station system. Lindsay Starkjohann, a 3rd grade teacher at Bagdad Elementary, is an expert at using the Daily Five and CAFE for her language arts block. She is planning on using her expertise in this area to set up her work stations in math. I'm proud of her for taking on this challenge to differentiate for her students!

Do you have examples of teachers doing math work stations?
Yes! I would like to feature a math teacher leader, Heidi Dominguez, who teaches first grade at Westside Elementary. She allowed me to take some great pictures of her work stations. Thank you Heidi for giving us permission to learn from you!

Here is her work station board. On the left side, she has literacy work stations. On the right side, she has math work stations.

Students are paired up (white cards on left) and the math work stations have numbers (blue cards on right). The numbers are the corresponding tubs that the students grab.

Here is where she keeps the tubs.

COOL TIP!!! Every math tub has a shelf liner about 14' x 14' square inches. These define the student's work area! She said that they keep things organized and a little bit quieter when students are using the manipulatives!
Students grab their tub and work under the number that corresponds with the tub. So, if you have tub 6 and 7, then you would have a designated spot to do your math work.

I have a work station system started, but what are some other easy ideas for work stations?
This is a quick brainstorm, but check back as I know we will probably elaborate on these ideas!
  • Counting Collections-and then record how you counted!
  • "I can" charts that you can add on to and stick in the tub
  • Working on problem solving
  • Writing about math (problem-solving communication, glue a math artifacts in your journal and write about it, wonderings, etc.)
  • Math Games to conceptualize math facts
  • Vocabulary practice


For more information on Math Work Stations, this book provides color photos and practical ideas. It is written for K-2, but if you teach upper grades you will be inspired by just looking at the photos!


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