Imagine you are an elementary (or secondary!) math teacher. You know your students need regular opportunities to practice and review grade-level math standards in ways that are engaging and easily differentiated. You want students to create, collaborate, and engage in cross-curricular learning, freeing you up to support struggling learners in small intervention groups. You hear your colleagues buzzing about the Math Workshop model, and it sounds exactly like what you had in mind. A few Pinterest boards and Teachers Pay Teachers purchases later, you are well on your way to creating your own Math Workshop, until…
You are up to your eyeballs in lamination, cutting out playing cards on your living room floor for hours at a time. Your significant other finds a receipt from Office Depot—$80 for colored ink cartridges alone?! Puzzle pieces go missing, students’ assignments are incomplete (if turned in at all), and station time begins to feel more like a war zone than a productive learning environment. What can be done?
Keep It Routine
Whether you are creating three stations per week or 10, consistency is key. Many teachers use an acrostic, such as STACK, to add structure and routine to Math Workshop time. For every station, ensure that expectations are clearly stated and supplies are easily accessed. For example, where in the room should students work? How will they collaborate, if at all? What is the expectation for voice level and accessing materials?
Keep It Simple
Easily reproduced games, such as Memory, tic-tac-toe, and Bump are great for reviewing all math standards. Teaching students the rules to a few simple games early in the year prevents against classroom management headaches later on. Time-on-task is also maximized when students are already familiar with activities and don’t have to decipher a set of complicated instructions first.
Keep It Minimal
One of the best changes I have made to my Math Workshop is alternating students between “must-do” and “may-do” activities each day. Typically, in a five-day rotation week, I plan for two “must-dos” — assignments that must be completed and turned in for a grade. The alternating three days consist of “may-dos” — assignments that are less structured and, typically, ungraded. Students cannot move on to the next day’s activity until their current “must-do” is completed. Examples of “may-do” activities include math websites, puzzles, and games. As a result, students are more motivated to complete their work on time, and you find yourself with fewer assignments to grade at the end of the week.
Keep It Clear
Before planning a math station, think about what questions students are likely to have for you as they work. Interruptions such as “Is this right?” or “What do I do next?” can easily be answered with just a few simple adjustments to your math stations. Where students are required to create a product, include samples, pictures, or exemplars to guide them as they work. Clearly-stated visual instructions and self-checking activities (or just an answer key) also help keep students on track when they feel stuck or simply need some feedback.
Keep It Flexible
The best math stations are those that are flexible in terms of time and grouping. Consider asking yourself these questions as you plan: Can a student easily pick up his or her unfinished work the next week, or must it absolutely be finished within one class period? Can a particular game only be played in groups of three, or are groups of two to four suitable? Can an activity easily be extended for early finishers, or must all group members work at the same pace?
While math stations can be a novel way to engage students in meaningful math practice, they don’t need to be overwhelming. What are your best tips for making math stations work for you and your students? What new adjustments might you make to your Math Workshop model moving forward?