How to Make the Most of Your Math Workshop Time with Rotations
Anyone who knows me knows that math stations are my favorite part of the day! I love math stations! They provide the perfect way for students to practice skills, while letting them have a lot of fun with their friends. I spent many years modifying the way I run my math workshop. I wanted every second of class to be used as efficiently as possible. One of the challenges of a math workshop is getting kids from one station to the next without wasting a lot of time in the rotation. Today. I’m going to share with you some of the things that I’ve tried over the years that have helped me to get the most out of my math workshop.
Math Workshop or Reading Workshop- It can work the same!
Even though I refer to math stations in this post, it applies to ELA too! I’m just used to teaching math workshop!
The Old Way of Running your Math Stations
My first successful implementation of flexible grouping within math workshop required me to use a giant chunk of my whiteboard space for my centers rotation chart. I first taped this space off into rotations and time slots. Then I made name plates for each of the students. I also used other icons that were meant to denote different types of learning. When I wanted to change the flexible grouping, I just moved the name plates or the icons so that students knew exactly what to do.
My First Tried & True System
The New Way: DIGITAL centers rotation chart
I found that the old system worked really well, but as the years went on, I became more techie! I decided to change the centers rotation chart so that it was digital. I replicated the former system by using PowerPoint and having draggable components. When it was time for math workshop, I projected the PowerPoint so that students could see exactly where to go. I found that this was easier than my old paper version. It was quicker to change groups, easy to set up, and it didn’t take up half of my white board! More room for long division problems!
Using a digital version for my math stations also allowed me to change up my rotations more quickly. I could not only duplicate a slide and move the students’ names, but I could also go back to the original slide to have my former groups. YAY FOR FLEXIBLE GROUPING! I discovered that I could set up a week’s worth of math rotations, and then I didn’t have to mess with it at the end of the day. If I needed to make minor tweaks, it was quick and easy to do so.
How to transition throughout your math workshop stations
But just having the digital centers rotation chart didn’t necessarily fix all of the problems that arose. Not surprisingly, there were problems that arose. Here are some of the things that I was able to integrate into my digital rotation schedule that helped cut down on some of the problems.
Expectations for Math Workshop
Classroom expectations are key to ensuring that your math workshop runs smoothly. Before you begin implementing your math workshop, you need to sit down and think about your students and the struggles that they might have with the independence that they will gain through a workshop teaching format.
When your expectations are thought through and established, a set of consequences should be decided upon as well. Knowing your expectations, and the consequences that will happen if students don’t meet your expectations, will help you get your math workshop up and running in a way that helps it to become successful. Without taking the time to get all of this down, you’ll find that facilitating math workshop can become frustrating. You may even give up when it doesn’t seem to be going well. Setting up all of your routines, procedures, expectations, and consequences is the number one, most important, step of getting your math workshop up and running. If you don’t do this, the transitions between math stations are going to be the least of your concerns.
Using timers in your Math Workshop
Now that you have established strong expectations and consequences for your math workshop, you can focus on making the transitions between one rotation to the next go more smoothly. One way to do this is by using timers or stopwatches. One of my favorite websites is Online Stopwatch. It has a whole classroom section that is full of timers that are fun for the students. Once I would place my centers rotation chart up on the projector, I would start the countdown, and the kids could keep an eye on it.
I trained the students to pay attention to when there was one minute left on the countdown. At this point, it was time for them to start cleaning up their area and getting ready to rotate to the next station. By the time the timer went off, I would say “rotate” and all of the kids would move quickly and efficiently. The stations were nice and organized for the next group of kids to visit.
Beware... some online stop watches are a little too engaging!
Some of the online countdown clocks have a built in feature that informs students when they are running out of time. This helps them to stay on track without having to focus too much on the countdown watch. But beware, some of the countdowns are so cool that they are a bit distracting! Choose your countdown wisely!
Using Built In Timers in your Math Workshop
While the online timers worked well, I found that built in timers worked even better. Remember, I set up a digital centers rotation chart and used PowerPoint to project it to the students. Because PowerPoint is a presentation software, it has lots of tools that make it easy to use for this purpose. You can set your PowerPoint slides to automatically transition at any certain amount of time. So for Rotation 1, I may want the students to work at that station for 15 minutes. I can set my slideshow to automatically switch to the next slide after 15 minutes.
Using Transitions as Timers
Even better, I can use transitions to help students pace themselves. For example, I can have the PowerPoint transition after 10 minutes to a slide that says “5 minutes remaining. Finish up your game and starting organizing your station.” Using these built in timers for transitions makes it easier for the teacher to facilitate the rotations. With the online timers, you would have to go over to your computer station and click the timer. Then you would have to switch back over to your presentation that shows your math stations, and once more, restart the timer. Using the transitions timer feature on your presentation software will make it to where it can free flow throughout your entire math workshop. So, maybe you have 4 rotations. You can have your presentation show the math stations schedule for that time.
Using Built In Videos in your Centers Rotation Chart
Another cool feature about presentation software, such as Powerpoint or Google Slides, is that you can insert a video straight onto the slide. Yes! You can have video right on your centers rotation chart! So, you may choose to have students have the duration of a song on YouTube to clean up their station. It’s very simple to do and can also be educational. For example, there are lots of different songs that can help kids learn their math facts. You can insert one of these videos right onto the slide, play the song, and after several days of this, they will have learned the song, leading to them learning their math facts!
You can also insert videos you made yourself! Maybe you want to explain any expectations you have for math workshop or offer a challenge to them. Sometimes, I will insert a video onto a slide with a surprise challenge. For example, I might challenge the class to use appropriate voices during the rotation, and reward them if they meet the challenge
Having a Special Station in your Math Workshop
Another way to motivate students to make the most out of their math stations time is to offer one super FUN rotation. It doesn’t necessarily have to be educational in the traditional sense. Maybe it is a music station or an art station. But students who are doing really well during math workshop can be easily switched to this fun station. Maybe 1 or 2 students a day get moved into that exciting rotation, which builds within the other students the desire to make it there too.
You don’t have to draw attention to the kid that is earning their way into the special center! You don’t even have to say that the special center is designed to be more fun than the others. The kids will notice the activity is fun, that only a couple of kids made it there, and that the kids that did make it to the station were the kids that were following instructions and doing their best work. All of that will be intuitive to the students. It will help to build an intrinsic motivation to replicate some of those same quality behaviors they saw in their friends. This helps make the math workshop time more successful.
Facilitating a successful math workshop will be something that will make you feel very proud of not only yourself, but your students. It will build student ownership and independent, self-regulated students. Making sure to think about transitions and other expectations, rules, and procedures for your math workshop will help to ensure that you avoid many of the situations that cause teachers to think that their students aren’t capable of participating in a math workshop. When teachers feel this way, they revert back to whole group lessons in front of the white board and students completing pages from their textbooks at their desk. Using a math workshop is a much more fun and engaging way to cover the same content as more outdated teaching methods that may ignore 21st century skills.