CLASSROOM HOW-TO: Flipped Math Centers

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It was a daunting task: teaching third graders mathematical concepts that would add to the foundations of their basic math knowledge. “You’re a smart gal,” I said. “You can do this,” I told myself. “You will deliver math lessons through flipped math centers,” I heard a higher being boom. (In my daydream, it was a super confident, powerful voice over the intercom saying these magical words to me…daydreams are weird sometimes.)

So, over the summer, I set off with a very loose idea of how math centers worked and I began my research. At first, I was lost. I asked myself, “How will you address the range of needs in your classroom?” and “How many math centers will do the trick for third graders?” and “One center should always be a game center, right?”

I read articles. I learned about activities that make good centers. I read about interactively modeling math center routines. I sketched out drafts of what I *thought* math centers were supposed to look like. Those sketches promptly found their way into the trashcan as I refined my ideas to include consistent technologies and enrich students in this subject daily.

Most importantly, through reading and research, I was able to create my ideal math centers to include a flipped classroom perspective. Each day, students would use iPads to watch a short, instructional, mathematical video I created on Educreations. I only have five iPads, though, and 17 students. So I had to come up with a plan to make this work…and work well. My greatest question was this: “How do I deliver differentiated instruction to individual students without neglecting the rest of the students’ needs in the classroom?” This is where I had a bright idea.

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While on vacation in Orlando (hello, pool towel backdrop), my brain made some serious progress on the math center front. This took all my brain cells to figure out.

I needed five math centers to make this dream work. With 17 students in my classroom, I would need five iPads available to students with a screencasting app linked to each iPad. After checking out several screencasting apps like NearPod and Show Me, I settled on Educreations for several reasons. The most important reason was the ease of use for the young students in my classroom and the user-friendly design.

With a little over an hour to deliver math instruction and the “sillies” of a first-year teacher, I would have to be super disciplined about moving the students through the five centers so they would all be ready to move on at a similar time. Right now, I can tell you that I rely HEAVILY on routines that we have practiced and practiced over and over again. Creating smooth transitions between centers is so, so important to saving time during rotations.

Let me tell you where I am with this idea and how we use it in our classroom!

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Here is how our math centers are assigned in our classroom:

  • Coffee table → Complete workbook pages from the previous lesson
  • Library → Watch the newest lesson on Educreations using the iPads
  • Rainbow table → Work with the TEACHER on new problems based on the Educreations lesson *No students BEGIN at this math center! See “Super Important Information below!”* This is where I differentiate instruction!
  • “Number Grid Table” → Work on a project-based learning activity/play a related math game/XtraMath/Math Scavenger Hunt/Review
  • Rug → Work on an enrichment problem as a whole group/play a related math game

Screen Shot 2017-01-01 at 11.51.13 AM.pngThere are only four math groups but there are five math centers…hmmm…

For the first round of the daily rotations, no students go to the “work with teacher” center. This center is used to practice that day’s new skill and students will not learn that skill until they watch the screencast. This also allows the teacher to circulate during the first round of math centers to check-in with students and clear any center misconceptions for a group or the whole class. 

The students in my room construct expectations for math centers after the first few days of math. That’s exactly what I want. This adds to the “routine-ness” of our math block and helps our transitions work smoothly.

The day’s rotations are displayed to the students using Google Slides and a template I have created for our math centers. *Note that the colors of each station refer to a math group. These colors signify where each groups begins the rotations that day.*

Here are three examples of what our Slides look like each day: 

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Math centers from our chapter on mental math and estimation. The “Challenge” table was a daily word problem for early-finishers.

 

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Math centers from our chapter on addition up to 10,000. These were “introductory” stations.

 

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Math centers from our chapter on multiplication and division strategies. This day we were focusing on arrays. The “Ice Cream Scoop Problem” is an enrichment activity from YouCubed.

Here is a template for you to use while making your own math centers modeled after the Slides above: Math Center Template 

*You’ll have to “Make a Copy” of this template to edit it in your own Google Drive.*

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Students are placed in flexible groups (flexible, as in they change often based on how students are performing/meeting standards). At the beginning of each new math unit, students are given a pre-test. At my school, we use Math In Focus, which provides pre-tests for each chapter (score!). Depending on how students score on these tests and depending on how students performed on the previous chapter’s test and performance task, they are placed in similar-ability groups. This is an important way to group because it dictates how you will spend your time with students when they come to see you during rotations. You want students to be at similar levels within a group so that the instruction you deliver during math centers will be relevant and necessary, especially when that instruction is individualized, remedial, or enriching.

I place my students in color groups. I put this little chart up where it can easily be viewed by students. Then, I put the names for the groups on Post-its and stick them to this laminated organizer. I aim to put 4-5 students in a group as evenly as possible. I know in my head which group I have assigned as my “highest” group and which is my “lowest” group. It usually shakes out so that the two “middle” groups are on grade-level. Sometimes there are two “high” groups and sometimes there are two “low” groups. It pays to be flexible!

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Math Group Organizer.

You can download this simple organizer here: Math Group Organizer

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  • Each day, the students meet me in front of the SMARTBoard. This is where we always begin our math centers.
  • I review each center with the students: the activities are modeled, resources are shared, examples of completed work are shown, and games are played in a small demonstration group. Then, I allow students to ask questions about the centers before we begin.
  • BREAK! Students go to their assigned first center.
  • After about 12-15 minutes, we rotate centers. I ring a chime, students clean up their centers, and they rotate. *It is important to keep your screencasts to 10 minutes or less so that centers can run in the time allotted. When all students in a group finish the screencast, I usually ring the chime. If they finish the screencast early, I ask them to rewatch that screencast or a previous screencast.*
  • Repeat four additional times to get through five math centers!
  • Clean-up! Students clean the last center they were at and return all materials to a designated space. Then, it’s the end of our day, so we pack up and get ready to say goodbye!
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A student practicing a problem given during the screencast.

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I realize, upon “finishing” this post, it is extremely long and I still have more to share!

Stay tuned for information regarding the types of activities I include in math centers, how I use Educreations, and what our math centers look like the days before and after an assessment!

Are there any question you have about this math center model? I’d love to help you get this started in your own classroom! Leave questions or comments and I will respond to your thoughts! 

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