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8 Things to Consider When Planning Your Math Centers

Welcome to The Ultimate Guide to Math Centers Blog Series, so far we’ve talked about how important it is to do centers.

Now, let’s talk about planning math centers.

There are several things that you need to consider before you jump in head first.

You maybe thinking, “Greg, I need to get started RIGHT NOW!”

I hear you. I know that you’re excited and I’m excited for you, but if you don’t take the time to pre-plan then you’ll run into trouble later on. It’s like having a house with no foundation. There will be cracks.

PLUS you’re not a robot, your math center time may look a little different than a teacher in another grade level or district. For example, you may only have 20 minutes to do centers, while another teacher has 60.

Now, take a deep breath and set aside some time to reflect on these 8 major areas of center implementation that will impact how you set up centers in your classroom.

Area #1: Time and Frequency

  • How long is your entire math block?
  • How much time in your math block will you dedicate to centers?
  • How often will you do centers? (Daily/Weekly)

How much time you have in your math block will have an impact on how your center time looks. Ideally, it would be nice to have 45 – 60 minutes dedicated to math centers everyday.

But keeping it real, you may not have that amount of time.

So unless you are going to advocate for more time (which I encourage you to do!), be realistic so that you have quality over quantity.

Area #2: Routines and Procedures

What routines will you have in place for:

– transitions          – math conversations          – early finishers

– clean up             – partner work                     – group work

Be proactive because this will make or break your centers. Take some time to think of all of the little things (like the list above) that happen during math centers that require routines and procedures.

Try not to assume what you think kids should already know….. more than likely they don’t know it. You get to set the expectations with your students.

Area #3: Student Groupings

  • Will your students work in pairs or groups?
  • If groups, what is your maximum group size?
  • Will you group homogeneously or heterogeneously?

Do you have a class of 13 or a class of 31? Take some time to envision how that will impact your center time.

In my experience the perfect group has 4 students (it was just something about adding that 5th student – LOL). However, if you have a very large class, you may need groups of 5.

You can always test group size out and switch things up later.

Area #4: Student Movement

  • Will your students physically move from place to place or stay at their desks?
  • If students are moving, how will they know where to go next?
  • If students stay at their desk, what is the procedure for changing to the next activity?

We all have different teaching styles.  You may love for your students to get up and move to a new area of the room for their next center or you may want to keep everything they need at their desks.

Guess what? Either way is fine.

The important thing is that you have a SYSTEM for what you want to do and that kids are able to work with each other and have meaningful math conversations. To find out more about this, check out my course Math Centers 101.

Area #5: Classroom Space

  • Based on your classroom size, can students spread out?
  • Is there a dedicated area in your room to store extra materials? (i.e. closet or cabinets)

Small room. Huge room. No closets. Bookshelves or Cubbies.

Do a quick survey of your room and think about where you can store your math materials. Knowing your classroom size may also help you make decisions about student movement and group sizes.

Area #6: Student Needs

  • How will you know if your students have an emergency?
  • What should a student do if they have a question?

Of course the ultimate goal during math center time is having zero distractions so that you can work with your teacher led group…

But emergencies do happen, so what then?

Think about a way for students to get your attention during an emergency.

Area #7: Materials

  • Where will your math centers be stored in your room?
  • What materials will you use?
  • How will students get their materials?
  • Are any materials off limits (i.e. pencil sharpener)?

There are three main categories of materials for centers:

(1) center activities – games, recording sheets, etc.

(2) manipulatives – base ten blocks, geoboards, etc.

(3) other items – pencils, crayons, etc.

Pssst..If you need great grade level centers to fill up those storage bins, check them out here.

Area #8: Behavior Expectations

  • How will you inform students about behavior expectations before, during and after centers?
  • How will you monitor noise levels?
  • How will you hold students accountable for their behavior?

This has a very close connection to your routines and procedures. We all want our students to be accountable for their own behavior, but we have to explicitly set those expectations from the start.

Now you have it….. all 8 topics to consider before jumping into math centers.

I know that this can all seem overwhelming, so I urge you to choose only 1 to 2 areas to focus on at one time. This way, thinking about the whole picture becomes much more manageable.

Once you select the areas that you want to focus on, be sure to leave a comment telling us which ones you selected and why.

Looking to grab the reflection sheet that has all 8 areas and questions? Download the FREE 8 Things to Consider When Planning Math Centers Reflection Sheet by clicking on the picture above.

All of these questions got your head spinning? Put an end to your math woes with my 5-step course where I’ll save you time, get you organized and prevent overwhelm.

P.S. Join me for the Next Post: Organizing Math Centers

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