Math Stations Tips (and a Freebie) Linky Party

Math Stations! 
So fun and, yet somehow, so hard to wrap your head around. . .  When I first started contemplating math stations, it was shortly after reading Debbie Diller’sfabulous Math Work Stations.  (You should really check it out HERE if you haven’t read it.)

There was so much great information in there, but I knew that, ultimately, it had to work with the room-size I had inherited and the number of kids-versus-adults that I would have using them.  Basically, there was a 1:26 ratio that first year, but after thinking on it and tweaking it and shaping it, it has become a well oiled engine of learning and SO MUCH FUN.

Organize Them!

So even though some of you have heard it all before from me, I am constantly tweaking my stations a bit here and there. This is the set-up I have used for the last several years, and it works great for me.  (By the way, this year I’d like to tweak my set-up with a couple of those cutesy light blue pocket charts I’m seeing from Target.  So if you’re there, leave a couple for me will ya.  We don’t have a Target in my home town, so I can’t just run out and pick them up.)

I use a base of nine different stations that a student will rotate through twice before I change them. We go to two stations each day that we have math stations, and the stations last about 15-20 minutes.  Now, depending on the schedule I’m dealt at the beginning of the year, students get to use stations a minimum of three times a week but ideally four to five.  

Materials are, of course, housed in the nine drawers which are labeled 1-9.  Above are the pocket charts that hold student names and the corresponding numbers that will move down as students move through the stations.  This drawer system is neat and tidy, and I like that they aren’t stacked (no digging under or above) and that students are able to return them to their correct ‘spot’ when stations are completed.  It also allows my stations to be very mobile which is an absolute must in my little room.  Here’s another thing that helps with keeping your drawers neat.  I designate a ‘materials handler’ from each group.  That is the person responsible for taking out and putting away materials.  When you have four sets of hands in a drawer, things tend to get spewed around.

The pocket charts hold name tags (When I have students there are names on them.  I promise.) that are laminated so I can change them quickly if needed.  The color of a student’s name tag represents the materials that they will use with in each drawer. You do not necessarily always have the same colored tags within the same group.  I’ll show you why in a second.

So for instance:

Students with a green name tag would use the materials labeled with a green dot, or bit of green washi tape.  Here’s the important thing to note, within a given drawer students all are completing the same activity, let’s say write the room, but the task is tiered so that it is geared to their readiness level.  One group might be writing the room for addition 1-5, another for addition 1-10 and another 1-15.  Their tier (1, 11 or III) is really unknown to them.  They just know what color they are for those set of math stations.  I’m constantly changing their colors so it’s pretty difficult for them to realize what tier they are.

Differentiating Them!!!
Is your head spinning yet? NO?  Good.  Well, then let’s move onto the next obvious question, HOW do I get to the differentiating part.  Ok, so first of all, you can differentiate by addressing your students interests, learning profiles or readiness. Tiering is what addresses their readiness, and this is how I tier my activities:

Take a look at this flowchart . . .

It goes through the different steps I take when tiering an activity to response to my students’ readiness levels.  And here’s an example of how an actual lesson would look if I wrote each of these flowcharts out.

Of course I don’t do that.  That would be impractical, but I do have a lesson plan template that lets me indicate to my principal what each station activity is, what standard it addresses and how it is tiered, if it is tiered.

And now you’re thinking, ‘but Marsha, when they walk through the door in September (or August) they can’t possibly do this.’  So you want to know how to get them from here (fresh off the boat) to there (a fine tuned learning machine).  Well quite honesty, it takes a couple of basic things:

  • Establish predictable routines
  • Have high expectations
  • Don’t be afraid to stop and practice the procedures
  • Model Model Model
Getting Them Going!!!
Here is what you need to know about starting math stations will little friends.  They just got dropped off from Pre-K folks.  They still want to play and explore…and wouldn’t you?  So while you’re establishing those first math stations, your goals should be to let them become familiar with the routines and expectations of what goes on in math stations and to start to explore the different kinds of materials that you will be using.  And that goes for anytime throughout the year when you introduce new items.  Don’t expect to just throw some tens and ones manipulatives out there and NOT have them building or making letters or seeing how tall they can stack them.  If you give them that time to explore a bit, they’ll be more likely to work after.
So what kinds  of activities should they be doing? Anything that will get them familiar with other activities you will expand on throughout the year, activities that allow you to do some quick assessing those first weeks and activities that allow them to review a bit of what they may have learned but forgot over the summer.
Here’s a few to give you an example of what I’m talking about.  My two little ones were gracious enough to test them out for me.  I should note that while these should not be differentiated based on readiness as you don’t really know these little guys, I would provide some extra materials to challenge them the second time through if you thought they needed it.  These activities have a few options to help with that.
 I am seldom without an I-spy activity, so I have a simple one that will get students used to working with magnifying glasses and finding hidden numbers or letters.
Students take turns hiding the ‘lunch box’ behind numbers while their friends’ eyes are covered.  They then take turns trying to find it.
It’s good to get those finger muscles strengthened.  I like for them to be familiar with links so this activity has them linking numbers in order. You can use more or less numbers based on how ready they seem.
Another staple in my room is a Write The Room activity.  I want anything that gets them up and moving.  This is one that will get them familiar with the process while counting objects and recording their answer.  There are a couple of different recording sheets from which you can choose to keep it interesting.
This is a partner or group game that I might include if I have a volunteer available.  It’s number recognition with some fun ‘special’ cards thrown in for good measure.
I have strong feelings for sensory tables being included in a kindergarten classroom.  If at all possible you should have one.  You can use a low-sided Rubbermaid container or even a box, but get one.  For this activity you hide different colored objects in the sensory table and sort them by color or trait.  It gets them use to the expectations and procedures for being at the sensory, and they can show you their sorting skills to boot.

They can also practice patterns.  If at all possible, I always use real items as manipulatives because it just holds their interest better.  However, if you don’t have enough of something, there are some printable options available as well.
And of course, you have to have play-doh.  Even  if only because so many kiddos never get to use it at home. Please included it in your classroom.  (It never ceases to amaze me!) They are little, they need all the fine motor exercise they can get.   So if you have one of those janitors that hate it when you use play-doh, go buy them an extra mocha and a hug and break out the play-doh.
Remember, the goal is to teach them the routines and procedures.  Once you get them that, then you can get down to the nitty gritty business of really differentiating kindergarten math. So all of those activities and a few more are available right in one packet.
There are actually 12 possible activities in all, but I ran out of time to show you all of them.  You can check it out by clicking on the picture below.


Oh and the other thing…some of you have been asking me about number and color posters to match the ones I did for reading, so I whipped a few of those as well.

Just click on the link below to find out more:

Ok well, that’s enough of jabbering about math stations.   But before I stop, I don’t know if you might want these or not,  but I did make up some of those cutesy number labels and editable tags for your math station board if you need them.  They’re my gift to you.  Just click on the picture below to get them.

If you have a great post about math stations and want to link up, please go ahead.  If not, make sure you visit everyone else’s blogs to soak up all their good ideas too.


Marsha Moffit McGuire

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