Tackling Math Workshop

by becky on December 30, 2012

Hello Blog land! It’s good to be back. I know everyone in education is really feeling the pressure this year and I’m sure many, if not most, of you can relate to feeling beyond overwhelmed 24/7. That’s been me for the past few months. Actually, that’s been me since the first day of school. I wish I had been a better blogger the past few holidays because I had some really cute ideas to share, but I guess they will just wait until next year. :)

But, for today, I wanted to share my experiences with Math Workshop. I have actually attempted this in the past, and even though my students loved it, I couldn’t keep up with the copying, change of activities, and constant grading that was involved. I was attempting this at a time when my district was beginning to implement Guided Reading. Needless to say, I couldn’t put my all into both right at the start. Unfortunately, Math took the backseat. Until this year. I really knew I had to somehow incorporate small group instruction with this current class because when my team and I sat down with the third grade teachers last spring, one subject kept popping up: Math. Oy! Additionally, my district was/is implementing a new math series-My Math. I knew this year was going to be a doozy! So, over the summer, I started searching the web for Guided Math/Math Workshop ideas. I found some, but nothing I felt like I could jump into since I didn’t know my class yet, and I wasn’t sure what the math series was going to be like. I mean, yes, math is math, but I wanted to see the scope and sequence of the series, and I also needed to organize my materials. That’s when I found my starting place. I found and read and reread this amazing post from Clutter Free Classroom and decided that I would set up my workshop using the Acronym “MATH”.  M- Math Facts, A-At your Seat, T-Teacher’s Choice, and H-Hands on. Here is a picture of the Clutter-Free Board…

Here is my version of the MATH board I use in my classroom. I have to apologize about the quality of the picture… I forgot my real camera at home. All the pictures below are taken from my cell phone-doh!

On my board, I have made 4 large dots with the letters M-A-T-H on them. Underneath them, I stapled dry erase pages that list the activities they will complete during each station. It is so easy to just wipe off the activities each day. This was another golden suggestion from Clutter-Free Classroom.  Under T-Teacher’s Choice, I include the materials they need to bring with to their small group instruction. Before we begin Math Workshop, I have each group walk over to the board and look over their “schedule” and if they have any questions that pop up, they have my attention to ask them. Otherwise, once time starts, they cannot interrupt me unless they are vomiting, bleeding, or they lost a finger. If none of those things are happening, they have to use their resources to solve their problems. So far, no fingers have been lost. Can’t say the same about the vomiting, but what would teaching be without stomach acid on the 32 year old carpet, lol.

When it came to starting I thought the best and least overwhelming way to begin setting this up would be to take an inventory of the supplies I already had to see how I can use them in my math centers. I do have to say, I have a pretty nice collection of intermediate leveled math supplements I’ve purchased myself over the years.  Here are some pictorial examples of what I decided my “staples” would be for my H-Hands on section.

Versa-tiles. Um, hello, BEST resource in the educational world. I learned about these when I worked at Sylvan Learning Centers the summer before my first teaching job. Then, I remembered a box I had saved from a classmate’s dump pile she had made when she was moving classrooms. I had saved this 1978 box from being recycled and I’m SOOO glad I did. Yes, the pages are a bit old, and yes there’s a slight scent of old, but hey, math is math, and I didn’t have to make a single copy. Plus, there were 6 copies of each of the 9 topics and they were all appropriate for my 4th graders. Score!

Want to know the absolute BEST part of using versa-tiles? Kids LOVE them and they get immediate feedback when they self-assess their tiles. I don’t check their tiles every time but when I know certain students are struggling, I write them a note to show me their tiles before they flip check their answers. Since these are pricey I spend a fair amount of time teaching the students how to set up their boards, get them ready for the next student, and how to make sure they are closed completely. Luckily, they like using them so much they are willing to be extra careful.

Math Games. This is where my creative drive has really come in handy. Since I started blogging and selling at Teachers Pay Teachers, I have obviously used those materials in my classroom. All I did was reorganize my games into separate tubs and reorganized my dice and “markers”. Easy Peasy. Some examples of the math games students are seen playing during Math Workshop are:

Knock it Off-Multiplication

Practicing Place Value

Masters of Division

Let’s Practice Mean, Median, and Mode with Harry Potter

Fun with Fractions and Decimals

And my most recent addition to my store

We’re Off to Find the Product (Wizard of Oz themed)

They LOVE these games and are always excited when I tell them I’m working on a new one.

In addition to the math games I have made, I also pulled out and reorganized the math games I received when I piloted SRA Math about 7 years ago. I didn’t realize at the time what a goldmine I had, but these games are UH-Mazing, and incredibly beneficial. Here are some of my Goobers playing one of the multiplication games.

Additionally, I was contacted by a sweet representative from Lakeshore Learning asking if I was interested in doing a review on a math game from Lakeshore Learning. I chose “Allowance”. In a nutshell, here is how it works: Wash the car and earn $1.30, but forget your homework and lose a turn! In this fast-paced game, players race around the colorful board doing chores and collecting an allowance, then spend their earnings on the things they want.

At first I was worried it would be too easy for my students to play, but after sitting down and playing with my students, I really like this game. It’s perfect for practicing addition and subtraction, but even better… it’s 100% grade level appropriate for adding and subtracting decimals. The best part, every time there is indoor recess, my students ask if they can play Allowance. Um, let me think… of course!

If you are interested in purchasing this game or one of the MANY reading and/or math games, click here and start shopping!

So, that pretty much covers the H-Hands on part of my math board… Now, let’s move onto M-Math Facts.

I know I’ve blogged about this before, but I love using XtraMath for students to practice their basic facts. It’s free, differentiated, and completely student led. I honestly do nothing with this program besides updating individual programs when students finish and printing out certificates.  This particular group of students needs all the help they can get with their facts. Why does this keep happening??? It’s so hard to teach long division, fractions, and double digit multiplication when the students aren’t fluent. I wish there was a magic wand. Until then, during this part of the workshop, students will work on several activities.

#1-XtraMath-I’m lucky enough to have two student desktops in my classroom. Students know that when it’s their group’s turn for Math Facts, they take turns at the computer. Since rotations are between 12-15 minutes, we have no problem getting through 4-5 students during each rotation. Occasionally, we run into not all students getting their turn. I then tell them, they will complete during Homework time.

#2- Multiplication and/or division packets. Several years ago, I purchased multiplication and division workbooks that practice each fact on several pages. I have organized them into 4 separate packets and as they finish one, they get a new one until they finish all 4 packets. Then, I have skill based packets for them to work on. Luckily this is the majority of the copies I make for math for the whole year. It is drill and kill, but in my opinion, it’s not hurting them and any practice is good for them.

#3 Flash Card practice. Sometimes I know students need more interaction so I tell them that for today they will practice flash cards with 1-2 partners. This is a perfect opportunity for me to differentiate. A lot of my students are working on subtracting because that is hands down, the weakest fact in my room.

Now, it’s time to talk A-At your Seat. In the past, this was my least favorite part of the planning. I overwhelmed myself by constantly making copies for all levels of learning. Although I do know that differentiated independent work is incredibly effective, I also do not want to kill my number count on pages that I can’t guarantee students are putting their full effort into. Plus, I’d always feel guilty if I didn’t grade them. I’d end up spending my nights grading the independent work, get aggravated that they weren’t “getting” it, and then spend my plan time finding more papers for them to complete. It was such a waste of time, paper, and energy. This year, things are MUCH easier. I focus my plan time on using the formative assessment I gain during my small group instruction to differentiate the lessons for the next day’s workshop. I’m also lucky in that this year my district purchased consumable student workbooks. That means I hardly ever make copies. Since there are about 4 pages for every lesson, and I usually only use the homework page with my class, I am able to have students complete the Independent Practice page in their workbooks from the lesson the day before. This was the key. I kept trying to have students independently complete activities from the current day’s lesson. But, duh, what about the groups that see me last. Are they supposed to be mind readers? Big light bulb for me. This way, when they work, they have their notes from the day before and they have already completed a homework assignment of the topic. The independent practice is a review. Yay!

Mountain Math-Since it usually only takes my students about 8-10 minutes to complete their Independent Practice, they “know” that when they finish, they are to work on Morning Math aka Mountain Math. The expectation is that they complete all 24 questions by the end of the week. This part is still a work in progress since I haven’t introduced all the topics of Morning Math to them, but overall, students are doing a great job of completing their work. Have you ever used Mountain Math? I have used it religiously in the past, but for the past two school years, it sadly sat in a bin collecting dust. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this program because it’s to the point and effective. I used to hang the questions on a clear pocket chart seen below…

Unfortunately, I could never find a good “home” for the pocket chart where students could see and work near it. So, one of my new purchases of the school year was the tabletop center version found here.  I like it so much better for several reasons. There is no more set up necessary. All I have to do is flip the page. Plus, when I used the pocket chart, I’d only be able to fit 1/2 the questions at a time. Now, students can work at their own pace and not have to wait for me to switch out the cards. It’s so much easier to manage. Maybe one day I’ll invest in the digital version for the SMART boards. I don’t have one in my classroom yet, so I’ll just use the tabletop version. I’m personally content. I think the Goobers are also. :)

Finally, let’s talk T-Teacher’s Choice. By far, this is the easiest to explain. You may have noticed at the beginning of this novel I call a blog post, that my MATH board has sticky notes on each group circle. I could also use a dry erase marker, but I like the way I can pull the groups off and not have to take the circles down to change. It’s a time thing. My groups change after each chapter. I have my students take a pretest before each chapter and based on how they score, I set my groups. Just like with Guided Reading, I have a few high, a few low, and mostly average ability groups. I have a total of 4 groups and 22 students. The size of each group varies from chapter to chapter.

So, that is how I run Math Workshop in a nutshell. Wow, if you have read this long you deserve a prize. How about a freebie instead? If you are thinking about starting M-A-T-H Workshop in your classroom, then you’ll need to organize your plans. Click on the picture below and download a copy of my MATH Workshop planning sheet. I fill in each box with the activities and/or assignments I want students to complete during each day of Math Workshop. Enjoy!

Do you run a similar workshop in your classroom? What are your helpful hints? Do you have any tried and true suggestions?

Til next time!

Happy New Year!


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