4 Areas to Jump Start Your Math Centers

Let's face it.  We all want engaging ideas for teaching elementary math and reinforcing numeracy, but students come to us in so many different ways that it can be hard to meet all of their needs at the same time.  But what if I told you that meeting those diverse student needs and getting them engaged isn't as tall of an order as you think?  (And no, the solution here isn't to clone yourself a few times so you can sit with all of your students and give simultaneous one-on-one instruction...even though that sounds pretty cool.) The solution is math centers!

Let me read your mind for a second and recite some of the common gripes about centers:
  1. they're a time sink,
  2. they can be super frustrating to organize and do,
  3. students constantly interrupt your teacher led group 
I know exactly how you feel, because I've had some of those gripes too!

Sure, everyone would love to have fun, math-tastic centers that make even the most number-phobic students engaged, but that isn't always the reality.  Good news!  Most of the problems you've probably faced are preventable, which makes the only thing that's standing between you and effective math centers is..... a new point of view.

Center time has a ton of benefits, which is why I'm spreading some math center love with my 5 -part Math Center Blog Post Series. In the series, I share many tips and ideas about making math centers easier for you!! Yes, you...

For a taste of what I cover in the series, let's explore 4 areas to jump-start your math centers:

Area #1: Planning

Good math centers start with a good plan.  Sketching out what you're hoping to accomplish is the best way to stay on track when putting together center activities.  Best practices are simple: have concrete expectations for yourself and your students, and clearly define your centers ahead of time.

From how much time you have, to how you and your students will navigate your space, to how you'll form groups, there's a lot to consider.  But whatever you do, give yourself time to plan it out and not just the day before centers begin!

Check out my in-depth post about planning and download the free planning guide (above) with the 8 areas you should be focusing on when launching math centers.

Area #2: Organization

Some people are naturally organized, and some aren't.  If you're not an organizational genius, there's still hope with the right tools.  Good organization is essentially an investment in your own time.  With some upfront work you'll be able to reap the rewards later: easier cleanups + smoother transitions.  Ever hear the saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure"?  With centers, that's true x 100.

In my organization post, I cover three areas of organization that can make or break center time: organizing yourself, your stuff, and your students.

Discover tips on how to organize math centers to minimize headaches and maximize learning time.

Spoiler ALERT: dividers and sheet protectors are your friend!

Looking for a ready-made system for math centers including games and templates?  Learn more here:

Area #3: Management

Managing centers can feel like a balancing act between being too involved and ruining the "magic," and being too hands-off, which is great for independent kids but ends up leaving your kids that need additional support behind.

Be proactive about routines and procedures, making sure you and your kids know them backwards and forwards.

Displaying expectation charts can be a great way to manage student behavior, as well as modeling what to do, and helping students "own" center time by assigning jobs.

You know kids get excited about being given the smallest amount of power-- use that to your advantage!

Read more about the ways you can manage center time more effectively here and be sure to download the math center expectations chart.

Area #4: Making Your Center Time Meaningful

So you've got your math centers going, but you're worried whether they're helping your students learn.  Incorporating math centers means walking a fine line between fun and work.  Pure fun centers with poor alignment to standards are time wasters, but overly rigorous ones will only appeal to a few students.  What does effective math center content look like?

There are several questions you can ask yourself to judge if your content is working towards your goals.

First, does it encourage math talk?

Second, do kids seem engaged in the activities?

And third, is there enough variety in the kinds of questions asked?

These are simple questions to ask yourself to gauge whether center time is quality time.

My post can give you helpful criteria to reflect and make changes if your centers are veering off track.

So, it's time that you select 1 or 2 areas to jump-start your math centers.  Like Nike says, "Just Do It!"  You'll look back and be glad that you did.

Need a quick fix? For more guidance and tons of fun grade level games and activities for math centers check out my course, Math Centers 101.

You'll get tried-and-true, engaging center ideas to use in your classroom-no guesswork necessary.  This includes 15+ support videos, year-round student activities, and useful tools and templates for organization & management.  Learn more by clicking the image below.