Math Centers Make Learning Fun

Math centers are one of the best math teaching strategies around. With interesting math center activities, learning and teaching elementary and middle school math is fun!

If you want to catch kids up - and we all do, don't we? - you can't do it with whole class instruction alone. Even if you are a phenomenal teacher, there are going to be kids in your classroom (they are certainly in mine!) who are not listening when you talk to the entire group.

So if 30 minutes of working with a group of 6 or less is the equivalent of an hour and a half of whole class instruction, what is the solution for the classroom teacher?


Center Procedures

Center procedures must be carefully planned, then clearly explained and practiced before the first day in the new configuration. Kids have to know exactly what you expect, and it takes time, but once they learn the routine, the centers practically run themselves.

My students work in assigned groups of four (five in my largest class) and there are six math centers in all. They complete two centers each day so in three days everyone has worked in every center.

On Mondays, I explain what they will be doing in each center. I stress to them from the beginning that on center days I will be conducting a group and will not be available for questions. So I spend plenty of time making sure everyone understands the tasks at each center.

The first time we talked about how to move between centers and even practiced rotating through them all. As a result our movement from center to center is smooth and orderly.

Since there are some weeks when I must adjust our schedule, I wear a construction paper circle on which I have printed the word "Center" so that students will know that they are to bring only a pencil to class. Notebooks, books, etc. get in the way of the flow from center to center so I provide everything they need on those days.

Center Activities

Math center activities, too, must be carefully planned and prepared. In general, these are our six:

  1. Me - In this center I have a chance to work with a small group of 4 or 5 kids on skills which seem difficult to grasp. This is the real beauty of working in centers because they are able to understand so much more in a small group.
  2. Computer Center - Kids absolutely love the games in this center. All target state standards, and most come from Mangahigh which has the best math games I have ever seen. Check out PEMDAS Blaster and TranStar, and you'll see what I mean!
  3. Game Center - Here students play games like Fraction Dominoes and the Integer Game, which uses game boards created by students.
  4. and 5. Art Center - Students stay in these two centers for the entire period so they are able to complete longer math-related art projects such as Angle Animals or Hidden Shapes pictures. People at Centers 3 and 6 exchange places, however, in the middle of the period as do those in Centers 1 and 2.
  5. Smartboard Center - This is my first experience with a whiteboard, and I have to say -- I love it and so do my kids! Many excellent activities and games for targeted skills practice are available. One of our favorites is Flower Power from Mangahigh

Go to the Language of Math from Math Centers
Go to Mathematics Center Activities

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Setting Up Your Centers

The scary thing about doing something for the first time is that you never really know how it is going to work until you try it.

Here are some things I have discovered which may be of help to you in setting up centers for your math students.

  • Keep traffic flow in mind so that there is room for students to move from one center to another.

  • Number centers clearly. I made signs from colored file folders.

    Creating and displaying center signs, like this one made from a red file folder, helps clearly identify each math center.

  • Use a pleasant sound to signal when it is time for students to rotate to the next center. This, I have found, helps keep the atmosphere calm. A chime or a hotel-type call bell is ideal. ($3.88 at Amazon.)

    A call bell may be used to signal that it is time for students to rotate to the next math center.

  • Include written directions and objectives in each center. This is very important! Even though you will be explaining them ahead of time, brains cycle in and out and not every student will hear the explanation for every center.

    Since you will be busy with a group and unable to answer questions, this step is critical to the success of your centers.

  • Be absolutely certain everything students need are at each center before you begin. Check and double check so that you will not be disturbed as you work with your small group.