How to Start a Math Workshop

How to Start a Math Workshop

Don’t freak out about starting a math workshop! It can sound a little intimidating or overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! Start a math workshop by starting simple!

The Basics of Math Workshop:

There are 3 main components of a math workshop:

  • Mini lesson
  • Practice opportunities
  • Assessment

Here’s a quick overview of each component:

Mini Lesson: Your math mini lesson will typically be a whole group lesson. Keep it mini! Your lesson should be about 10-15 minutes tops! During the mini lesson, you will briefly introduce new material and attach it to prior learning. Think introduction; not mastery.

Practice Opportunities: Students need lots of time and practice to truly understand most math concepts.  Practice opportunities can be small group lessons, practice pages, math centers or stations, and even paired learning. Including spiraled review of previous lessons helps students truly master the skills they need to learn.

Assessment: Pre-, formative, and summative assessment along with self-reflection are important parts of the math workshop.  The assessment component doesn’t necessarily mean a quiz or test. Ongoing assessment helps the teacher and the student recognize any gaps that may exist or any areas for challenging students to dig deeper. 

3 Steps to Getting Started with Your Math Workshop

1. Divide up your time

Grab a piece of paper and get ready to do a little math yourself. Although there are 3 main components to a math workshop, they do not each receive an equal amount of time.

  • Write down the number of minutes you have in your math block.
  • Your mini lesson should take about 10-15 minutes, so subtract that from your total minutes.
  • Your students need at least 25 minutes of practice time, so subtract 25 minutes from your balance.

If you only have a 40 minute block, you can see that you’re already running out of time! If that’s the case, limit your mini lesson to 10 minutes, give your students 25 minutes of practice, and then use the rest of the time for reflection and assessment. It will be tight, but with good classroom organization and management, you can do it.

  • Set aside 5-10 minutes a day for assessment and reflection. Subtract that from your total minutes.
  • Whatever’s left, add it to the students’ practice time. The more practice the better!

2. Divide up your days

Some teachers hold their math workshop every day of the week, and some teachers set aside a day or two a week for other activities, such as testing. It’s totally up to you.

Whatever you choose to do, remember that students respond well to structure, organization, and routine. The best way to ensure your classroom embodies those things is to plan it that way. 

Once your weekly schedule is designed, do your best to stick to it as much as possible.  You’ll thank yourself when your classroom is a well-oiled machine. 

3. Use a planning template to plan for all three components

Once you’ve designed your ideal weekly schedule, create a planning page that can help you keep everything organized inside of your math workshop.

Here’s an example:

Math Workshop Organizer

This doesn’t have to be anything fancy! It’s just a skeleton of the activities your students will be completing for the day.  I like to break my practice opportunities up into stations (which you can see in the example) but you don’t have to. The important thing is that students are fully using their practice time to practice!

A bare bones lesson plan could look like:

Lesson Plan Math Workshop

Filling out the weekly plan is something a team can do together.  When you bring together several teachers, each one can bring ideas to the table.  These tried and true activities get plopped into the plan, and each team member can help to make implementation a breeze. 

Digging a Little Deeper

Planning your mini lesson – and keeping it mini!

One of the biggest mistakes teachers make when starting a math workshop is underestimating how short the mini lesson should be!

A mini lesson is not designed to teach the math skill! It has three main functions:

  1. Introduce the new skill
  2. Attach it to previous learning
  3. Serves as formative assessment
Teaching Math Workshop

That seems too easy, right?

But think about your own experience with teaching students in a whole group setting.

  • You introduce the lesson, relate it to something else the students know already, and then you show an example or two.
  • Your gifted and high-achieving students have it down pat. 
  • You do another example or two because you’re still getting some blank stares.
  • A few more of your students are starting to understand.
  • Two kids are now fidgeting in the back.
  • The gifted kids are shooting up their hands to be the first to answer every subsequent question, but you’re trying to give opportunity to the other students.
  • After two more questions, most of your regular students feel okay with the skill.
  • But you have a few students with learning disabilities, and they don’t seem to understand yet.
  • So you do a few more examples.
  • They’re still not getting it, so you pull out the manipulatives from the closet and try to present it another way.
  • By now, half the class is fidgeting.
  • You’ve spent 30 minutes on the lesson, and there are still students who can’t do it.

There has to be a better way, right?!?!

Forget about kids learning in a whole group format! Instead, teach students in small, flexible groups during their practice time.

If you use the mini-lesson as an introduction and pre-assessment, you’ll have a good jumping off point to teach students in small groups. 

Practice Opportunities

The small group teacher station should be the main focus on the student practice time, but if you’re working with small groups, the rest of the students need to be working independent of you.  This is where stations and centers come in!

Disclaimer: If this feels too overwhelming to you, start by using your math curriculum the district provides and let students work quietly at their desks or with learning partners. You can add more centers or stations later. 

In my classroom, we had 4 main stations that students would rotate through. We had:

  • Math with the Teacher
  • Math with Myself
  • Math with a Friend
  • Math with Technology
  • And Math in the Real World (for extension)

Math with the Teacher

Math with the teacher was my small group station.  I met with some groups daily and some only once or twice a week. The students that needed me the most got me the most.  The kids that needed me the least spent more time in independent learning opportunities.

Math with Myself

In this station, students completed worksheets, independent work, quizzes, task cards, etc. Pretty much any work that a student could do alone would be in this station.  This was also how I built spiraled review into my students’ week and how I integrated the math textbook assigned by the district. 

Math with Technology

This is just what it sounds like.  Students can use a device to learn, practice, or study.  Sometimes this was by playing games, but often, students watched videos that I recorded for them. Other times, students worked on 21st century skills such as collaboration, communication, and presentation. I also used technology to assess student learning so that I would have instant data.

In terms of technology, since I was a 1-to-2 classroom, I often used technology in other centers too. For example, I may have the students play a digital game for Math with a Friend.

Math with a Friend

I mostly used practice games during math with a friend. In fact, I created practice games for every single skill I taught throughout the year.  Students loved this station, and it was perfect for integrating spiraled review. 

Math in the Real World

This was a station that I used for extensions. I would have students apply their learning to real world situations. This was definitely a student favorite!

Assessment and Reflection

The last few minutes of class are a great opportunity for students to reflect on the day’s learning. You can use exit tickets or simply invite everyone back to the whole group for a quick share time. During these few moments, you can gather lots of information about the stations the students liked, gaps in understanding, and what students feel successful with. 

It may seem unimportant to finish out the day this way, but it sets the tone for tomorrow and gives ownership of learning to the students. 

You’ll learn to love these moments.

Getting Started with Math Workshop Isn’t Rocket Science!

I’ve outlined a few simple ways for you to get started and have helped you to better understand what a math workshop might look like throughout the day.

It doesn’t have to be hard or overwhelming.  It doesn’t have to be complicated.

Typing on Computer

A math workshop does take some time to set up because you’ll have to do some planning and you’ll have to invest time into teaching the students the expectations they’ll have while participating.

But you won’t regret it!

One of my greatest successes as a teacher was my ability to teach my students in a math workshop format.

The students loved learning that way, and I learned to love teaching that way just as much!

If you’d like to learn more about a math workshop, stay tuned!

We’ll be sharing lots of quick posts about starting, organizing, and running a math workshop in your own classroom. 

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment.

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