When launching math centers, it’s important to get this right. Whether you are launching math centers at the beginning of the school year or even mid-year, it is essential that you go through the necessary steps to lay the foundation for a successful math center time.
Slow and Steady
It takes about 2-3 weeks before we are doing math centers independently. Don’t let this time frame scare you. Think of it this way. You have to learn how to walk before you can run. If the students learn the expectations and practice them to perfection, the amount of quality math time that is going to happen for the rest of the year makes it all worth it.
5 Clear Expectations
When launching math centers we start with our five expectations that you see below. These are available for free in my Math Centers Launching Freebie.
Modeling is Key
We talk about the 5 rules and discuss what they mean and what they might look like during math centers. For each one I choose a volunteer to demonstrate a math center done incorrectly and then correctly while following the specific rule we are talking about. On day one we talk about all five rules and then the following 5 days we dive deep into each of these by making an anchor chart for each. On the anchor chart we go into more details and at that time we do the demonstrations of what to do and what not to do.
Establish a Signal
The next important thing to establish is the signal you are going to use to get the class’ attention. It can be a clap, lights, doorbell, or even call and respond. Whatever it may be, be consistent. Practice. Model. Demonstrate. What do you want them to do when they hear the signal? In my class we use a wireless doorbell. When the students hear the chime they “freeze and put their hands on their head” and from there they are going to receive a direction. Do what works for you and again, practice, model, and demonstrate.
Find a Timer
Another important aspect of math centers is a timer. If you want to avoid the question, “How much time do we have left?”, you will want to find yourself a timer. I use a large time timer that sits on my desk. As soon as the first student has finished their independent activity and started their center, I set the timer for the amount of time they have until center time is over. For example, if Student A finishes their independent activity 10 minutes before math center time, I set the timer for 35 minutes (10 minutes of extra time and 25 minutes for centers).
Purchase your time timer here
Start with the Basics
I should also mention that in those first 2-3 weeks of training, we are starting with the basics for their center activities. The first week may only be hands on exploring of the different math manipulatives (tools) that we will be using this year. From there, they will learn how to play Toothy, for example, and all the students will be playing Toothy in their center group. All skills that the students are working with during center time are review skills. More information on that below.