Plan Your Math Centers for an Entire Year in 1 Hour

Plan an entire year’s worth of math centers in an hour?!? Yes you read that right! I have always dreaded planning math centers. So, I have made it my mission over the years to make planning my math centers easier while still providing rigorous and differentiated instruction. Keep reading to find out how I plan a year’s worth of math instruction in just 1 hour!

Before you Start

Before you start you are going to want a few things in front of you. 

  1. You will want your pacing guide that shows what skill you are teaching with approximate dates. If it doesn’t already have dates assigned to each skill go ahead and take a moment to put the start and end dates of when you plan to teach each skill based on your schools calendar.

2. Pull all the resources that you plan to use for the year. I like to use resources that are year long resources so that I am using the same types of activities throughout the year I am just changing out the skill. Not only does this make it quicker to plan my math centers but it’s easier on the students as they know what to expect and how to complete the center. Below are the activities I use each week in my math centers.

  • Math Word Problems
  • Skill Practice
  • Error Analysis
  • Assessments
  • Number Sense/Hands On Math
  • Digital instructional programs provided by our district
  • Teacher Groups

Start Planning

When planning I like to use a Google Sheet™ to organize what resource I will use each week. Click here to grab a copy for yourself to use! (NOTE: Tab 1 is an example of the first 3 weeks in my classroom (5th grade). Tab 2 is blank for you to add your own content).

First, in the first column put the all the dates for each week (make sure you exclude weeks you are not in school. i.e. Winter/Spring Break). Then in the second column put in the skills you plan to teach during your whole group instruction that week.

Next, choose 1 of the year long resources you have and start choosing what activity or page you want them to work on each week. For example, if I grab my year long error analysis resource I will start putting the numbered worksheet I want them to work on every week. This is where having your pacing comes in handy, I don’t want to assign them a skill on a week if I haven’t taught it yet. I fill in the error analysis resource for every single week until the whole year is filled and then I move onto the next resource.

Complete each column/resource one at a time until you have filled in the entire Google Sheet™ with activities for the year.

Throughout the Year

While I have done a lot of the work upfront there are times I have to make changes due to schedule changes or pacing changes. This is why I don’t print/copy or assign anything until the Friday before. The Friday before I check my Google Sheet™ and pull out the applicable pages, make necessary copies or assign digital items to Google Classroom™. I organize my centers in a 20 drawer cart. Then I take my math centers Google Slide Presentation™ and update the activities as well as the drawers students can find the resources.

To Summarize

The key to making your math centers quick and easy to plan is to find the right resources. As I stated before I highly suggest you find high quality resources that will last you the whole year. If you are in need of math center resources, check out the resources below for some things that you will love for your math centers. These are resources I use in my own classroom each year!

Math Centers Organization

Word Problems

Error Analysis

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Why I don’t do math mini lessons anymore…and what I do instead

A few years ago I was working in a school that was exceeding growth year after year. Teachers were doing amazing and kids were excelling; it was the perfect scenario. Towards the end of the school year my administrator came to our PLC meeting and said next year we would have to implement a new teaching model in math called Launch, Explore, Discuss. I didn’t say a thing; but I didn’t have to, my face completely gave it away. I was very hesitant to change our teaching ways as our growth was skyrocketing so I wasn’t sure why we we needed to make any changes. My assistant principal looked at me right away and said “don’t worry, this doesn’t really change much for you because you are already doing it”.

The Well Known Mini Lesson

Most teachers are very familiar with mini lessons and we know why they are important. Even thought I knew they were important, I always dreaded them. There was so much talking on my part. It was a lot of work for me and kids just had to sit back, maybe take some notes and maybe do a turn and talk in there somewhere. Worse yet, when it came to math there were so many times that I felt like kids were bored because quite frankly it wasn’t a challenge just having to “sit and get” the content.

I Did Things Differently

By my 2nd year teaching I started to find myself as a teacher and had stepped back from the traditional mini lesson. I had started to reduce the amount of talking I was doing and instead started putting the work on the kids. Instead of pulling out my anchor chart and immediately showing students how to solve the problem I would start by asking the students “I know you probably have never learned this but how would you solve this problem”?

In the first few weeks of school it was a challenge, kids were taken aback. I would give them a problem they likely had never seen before and had given them no upfront guidance. Instead I allowed them to work in mixed ability groups and told them to think about what they had learned previously about the skill. As students would solve the problem, I would see them struggle and sometimes get frustrated; but by the end almost all students got it right and hadn’t even done my mini lesson yet!

Year after year I continued this process, giving students a task that was tied to the objective and allowing students to work together to solve the problem. Then we would discuss and share out what each group did to solve the problem. Not only were the students able to teach themselves how to solve the problem but they heard various ways to solve the same problem and deepened their reasoning skills.

Back when our admin told us we would use a new instructional model they sent us to attend a PD opportunity to review the new method. While at the PD I learned that Launch, Explore, Discuss is an instructional model in which students work collaboratively on a task and they discuss their findings. The teacher works as a facilitator of the processes and students drive the process. It was something I was already doing in my classroom and wasn’t even aware of.

I Still Provide Direct Instruction

Even though this teaching method has been used in my classroom for many years, I still do provide direction instruction to my students. However, my instruction is based on my findings when students are working together on the task. I pay attention to misconceptions they have or struggles I see. My mini lessons are usually only a few minutes long and just clear up any confusion and students take notes of the process. There are times that it’s more of a challenge and I do a more in depth lesson of the skill.

Making Tasks

When our admin told us about our new instructional model many teachers were very stressed about trying something new. I observed other grade levels who were feeling overwhelmed and was surprised about how much work they were putting into creating an in depth task everyday for students to complete. While you can spend a lot of time creating a task for your students, the truth is you don’t need something very complicated; they can be a simple computation problem that is tied to the objective for the day or a more rigorous word problem.

Here are a few tasks I have created for my students to learn new concepts.

This problem was given to students to introduce 2 x 2 multiplication.
This problem was given to students to introduce finding volume with a missing dimension.
This problem was given to students to introduce order of operations.

I saw real academic results and improved engagement when I started to allow students to work and teach themselves. Even better, I wasn’t going home so tired since I was putting the work and effort onto the students. Over the last year I have been creating digital notebooks for my classroom and I have modeled them after the Launch, Explore, Discuss instructional method. If you would like to introduce this model to your students and need resources these 5th grade math digital notebooks will help you tremendously!

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Thanksgiving Math PBL for Upper Elementary Students

I am a huge fan of using PBLs in math. I think it is a great way to not only incorporate real world scenarios into the classroom but also make math engaging and fun! I also know that keeping students focused when a holiday and break are right around the corner is a huge challenge and that’s why I love using this Thanksgiving Dinner PBL to keep students focused and to build on those critical thinking skills!

In this activity students will plan a Thanksgiving dinner that includes cleaning the house, renting table and chairs, purchasing tableware, shopping for ingredients, calculating cook time all while in a budget! This is a very detailed PBL and is a great activity for students to work on in the weeks prior to Thanksgiving

First students will start off by creating their guest list. They can invite who normally would attend their thanksgiving dinner each year, or they can make this year more interesting and invite their classmates. Their budget is based on the number of people attending their Thanksgiving dinner. So they more people that attend the more money they get to spend; but it also means more food and supplies to purchase!

An easy way to differentiate this activity is by adjusting how many guests the students are required to invite. The less people at the dinner, the less challenging this project will be. Push your higher ability students by making the guest list requirement higher! Just in real life, it’s much harder to plan for a dinner for 30 people than it is for just 4 people!

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a lot of cleaning before your guests come over, right? Even in this PBL you have to get your house clean! Luckily, students get to hire someone to clean their place. The cost of cleaning will be based on the size of their actual home. Students will look at a table and see how long it will take for someone to clean their house based on how many bedrooms they have. using the hourly rate provided students must calculate the cost of having someone clean up AND they have to include this when calculating their budget!

Time to pull out some extra tables and chairs! Students will drag tables and chairs to their floor plan and decide just how they want the furniture set up. They will also have to write a written expression that shows how to calculate the number of tables and chairs. Finally, they will calculate how much it will cost to rent all the table and chairs for the night.

And because we know those table you rent are not always the nicest…you will need to pick out some tablecloths from your local party store. Pick out something classy and neat or something wild and funky they choice is up to your student! Not only will they calculate the cost to purchase the table cloths but they will have to find the area and perimeter of the table cloths too! Got to make sure you get the right sized cloth for the table after all.

We can’t eat with our hands can we? Students have to purchase all the tableware: forks, knives, plates, cups and napkins. Again, they can pick out something timeless or trendy. They just better make sure they order enough!

The star of the show on Thanksgiving is the turkey, and there is a lot to think of! First, those students better make sure they get enough turkey for everyone. At 1 1/2 pounds per person they will have to figure out the smallest size turkey they can purchase for their dinner. Then they will actually have to go find a frozen turkey and calculate the costs.

Buying the turkey is not enough, don’t we all have to do that dreaded math every year to find out how long it’s going to take to defrost? 24 hours of defrost for every 5 pounds…it’s going to take a while to get that turkey thawed!

Finally, what we have been waiting for, time to cook that turkey! They have to make sure it’s done by 5, so they better double check that math and make sure they have cooked it for enough time. At 15 minutes of cook time per 1 pound, they will need to get it in that oven early!

Some people might argue it’s the side dishes that make Thanksgiving special so you can’t forget them. Students can choose from mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes. They choose 2 and look up the recipes to see the ingredients they need to shop for. They also need to pay attention to the serving size, they might have to double or even triple their recipe! They can’t forget the drinks or the pie either. Is it even possible to have a Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie!

Planning a big dinner can be a juggling act. So many things to cook, all with different cook times? Those students better watch the clock and watch their math to make sure you put everything in the oven at just the right time. Raw turkey and dried out stuffing is not how you want your evening to start!

You didn’t think I would forget the big game on Thanksgiving! Whose playing the big game today? Your students decide! They will calculate the points and tell me how their favorite team crushed the other team!

Did your student stay on budget? They will calculate the total cost of everything and find out just how expensive it is to host Thanksgiving dinner!

Keep your students engaged, learning and thinking by giving them this Thanksgiving Dinner PBL! Make sure to tell me how it goes in your classroom! I love to hear how much students love these PBLs.

Like this idea, but needs a different holiday theme? Check out our other PBLs to keep your kids busy year round!

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Celebrate Halloween in the Classroom…without losing instructional time!

I love incorporating Halloween into the classroom. Many of my students don’t do a lot of extra things to celebrate Halloween at home; so for many this is there only chance to do something fun for the holiday. That being said, I’m always wishing I had more time to teach content so I feel it’s important to not lose any (or very little) instructional time. Below you will find several math activities that I have used in my classroom over the years to bring the excitement of Halloween into the classroom while still practicing critical math skills!

This Halloween themed project will be sure to get your excited by testing their critical thinking skills! Students pretend they planning a Halloween party for their classmates. They choose a location, purchase decorations, food, create a floorpan, order party favors, create games and an invitation, hire a cleaning crew and calculate the total cost. While doing all this they practice coordinate grids, order of operations, numerical expression, multiplication, division, estimating, area, measurement and budgeting.

This next assignment is one I made a really long time ago but it’s been a hit every time I use it. Students will look at a candy advertisement and answer some rigorous math questions. One of the things I always found challenging about finding holiday themed resources on TpT was finding something that I liked AND my students knew that skill. So when I made this Halloween activity I included multiple versions (multiplication/division, fractions & decimals). No matter where I am in the curriculum pacing I can pull this out and use it with my students! This resource is available in Spanish too!

My latest Halloween activity (and one I personally can’t wait to use in my own classroom) is the Halloween Snack & Math activity. Students will make a Halloween treat in the classroom (don’t worry…ingredients are peanut free and inexpensive) and then answer math questions to go along with them while they snack on their “Werewolf Chow”. Like the last activity, this one also includes multiple versions to make sure I can always use it. It includes operations with like fractions, unlike fractions and decimals.

Finally, these Halloween themed word problems let students get creative with their word problems while still practicing important skills like multiplication, division, fractions and decimals.

I’m always looking for new ideas to use in my own classroom. How have you incorporated Halloween into the school day?

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Remote Teaching….Again

In the spring of 2020 when we were told there would be no school for 2 weeks due to Covid 19. I knew right away it would likely last more than 2 weeks. However, I really did think we would go back into the classroom before the end of the school year. Even when the end of the school year came and we weren’t back in the classroom I thought we would definitely be back in the classroom by the fall of the next school year. While several counties in North Carolina are going back on a hybrid schedule, there are many counties (like mine) that are going back virtually only.

So here we are again…planning for another virtual learning school year. Thankfully we have had the summer to physically (and mentally) prepare for more remote teaching. Below are some things I have been working on this summer that you might find useful for the upcoming school year.

Last spring, NC teachers had NO time to prepare for virtual learning. We left our classrooms on a Friday fully expecting to be there on Monday. While I love using technology in the classroom, 100% digital assignments is not best practice. This year I will fill these Virtual Learning Math Bags with dice, playing cards, timers, paper fraction bars and any other things that students can use while at home. This way students can have hands on manipulatives and items that they can use to play some interactive math games.

Every teacher and parent knows that many students struggled with remote learning last spring. Many struggled because of lack of support at home and others because they never had to learn remotely before. To help parents & students prepare for another round of distance learning I created this handout with tips and tricks they can use at home to help their student. I’ll print this out and send home with open house papers. If I can’t send home a paper copy I’ll e-mail a copy to parents (and you can e-mail a copy too!)

In the spring, our county allowed us to use any learning management system we wanted. However, in the summer they announced we had to use Canvas for the upcoming school year. I’m definitely a “Google Girl” and wasn’t thrilled with this idea. Thankfully after teaching virtual summer school I learned Canvas can be amazing, but it’s only as amazing as you make it. You really have to put the work into Canvas to make it great. This summer I made these neon digital buttons and banners for my own canvas course! Most of my students are NOT familiar with canvas so having these buttons will make it simple for them to navigate!

Before my county announced 100% virtual we still planned to go into school 1 day a week and students would not only have to wear masks but remain 6 feet apart. We know that good teaching involves students collaborating and working together and I was really worried how we could collaborate from 6 feet apart. I created this digital game board in Google Slides so that students could share the game board and still play with each other – from 6 feet away or even in their own homes.

Even with all these tools I am still incredibly nervous that my rising 5th graders are going to come to me with some significant gaps in their math ability. It would be easy for me to find an end of year 4th grade assessment for math, but I don’t care if they remember EVERYTHING from 4th grade. So I created this 15 question pretest that only assesses them on their 4th grade skills that are relevant to 5th grade math. This will tell me right away what skills we need to review before getting to the 5th grade content.

I know no matter what happens this year, this school year won’t be typical and it won’t be easy. I am excited to go back and hopeful that we can enter in the classroom again at some point. Hopefully the items I have made this summer will help teachers (and myself) prepare for the upcoming school year!

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Celebrating Holidays in the Classroom without losing Instructional Time

Who doesn’t love celebrating holiday’s in the classroom? I might be in the minority here, but I don’t really enjoy celebrating holiday’s in school. I have nothing against incorporating holiday’s into the day but I worry (excessively) about losing valuable instructional time.

Each year in my classroom I can expect to have 50%-70% of students who are below grade level. I want so badly for all my students to have a successful future and a life that they love. So it’s hard idea for me to think of spending time on a class party or just doing “fun” things around a holiday knowing my kids need support where they need to go.

In order to bring the holiday into the classroom but not still not lose precious educational time I have created these fun and rigorous math activities tied to some major holidays.

In these activities students will look an advertisement and answer multi-step real world type problems. Each holiday set includes 3 versions: multiplication & division, fractions and decimals. This way even if you haven’t taught a skill yet, there will be another skill you likely have taught and could use. You could also allow the students to choose the skill they want to practice. These resources also come in printable AND digital versions!

To save teachers time and money there is also a bundle set for only $10!

I know I shouldn’t worry as much as I do, but am I the only one who worries about losing instructional time? How do you incorporate related instruction around holidays?

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