Workshop

Several years ago, in the middle of my third year teaching 6th grade math, I was approached by my middle school's instructional coach about a new (to me at the time!) model of teaching called math workshop. The general idea was that students would be placed in small groups that would rotate through different stations, or centers, throughout the class period. I'm not going to lie, I was pretty skeptical at first. It was a little overwhelming to think about completely overhauling the structure of my everyday classroom routines, and in the middle of the school year none the less! Pair that with the fact that I coach high school baseball in the spring, and I was envisioning what would have been close to zero free time dwindling into the negative numbers! Ultimately I decided to give it a try, and am I glad that I did. I truly believe it has benefited all of my students.

*Update: For everything math workshop, all in one spot, be sure to check out my new book, Making Math Workshop Work. Depending on your preference, you can find Making Math Workshop Work as an eBook in the Kindle Store or you can order a hard copy from Amazon!

Math workshop can be set up in a lot of ways, depending on what works for that teacher and their students, so let me start by telling you about what I have been doing in my classroom. This year, because I have smaller class sizes of around 22 students, each of my classes are divided into four groups of 5 to 6 students. My first year I had larger class sizes, so I had them rotate through five centers. In general, I create groups based on the level of the students. I have thought about mixing the groups up, but really like how I am able to differentiate instruction when the groups are based on how well the students are understanding the material. The four centers include a center at the front table with me, an assignment center, a technology/hands-on center, and a problem solving/review center. I teach three classes that are 90 minutes each, so after accounting for 10 minutes of checking homework, a 10 minute daily check of what we did the previous day, a very brief introduction to the lesson, and a wrap-up at the end of class, I have about 12-15 minutes for each center. A while back, I wrote a post about how math workshop could work in different class lengths and sizes. You can check that out here! Above is a chart I made to keep track of groups and centers. I also have a document posted that shows what color group each student is in. So, you might be asking yourself, what do each of these centers include?

Enrichment task cards for kids who show they've got it!
Teacher Center: This is BY FAR the most important center for the students and really the number one reason why I decided to switch to a math workshop structure. It benefits the struggling and advanced students in so many ways, not to mention all of the students in between! For my struggling students, I am able to work essentially one-on-one, in their small group, to see what they aren't understanding. With all of my students during this time, I begin by having them work on these Math Task Cards, which are a basic set of problems for each topic we cover in 6th grade. For my advanced students, who usually breeze through these problems, I have spent a lot of time creating 6th grade Enrichment Task Cards for each of these topics. I also currently have task cards available for 7th and 8th grade. These are linked below! I laminate and cut out six copies to have ready, so each student has their own. Originally I had students working in their notebooks at this center, then I switched to white boards, and now I recently turned my front table into a giant white board...and am I glad I did! The students absolutely love writing on the table! Just be sure you order enough dry-erase markers...they go fast!

Math Task Cards - 6th Grade Math
Math Enrichment Task Cards - 6th Grade Math

Math Task Cards - 7th Grade Math
Math Enrichment Task Cards - 7th Grade Math

Math Task Cards - 8th Grade Math
Math Enrichment Task Cards - 8th Grade Math

Homework Center: I always have students head to this center directly after they have met with me at the teacher center. This is their chance to practice what we have just learned at the previous center. We use a textbook series for our math curriculum, so my assignments are usually 10-15 problems from the lesson we covered that day. The issue that arises with this center is that you will have one group that needs to start their day at homework, without having gone to the teacher center. I have my advanced group always start here, since they can usually do the homework with little introduction. Then by the time they get to my center, they have practiced on the homework and are ready for the enrichment problems!

Hands-on Center: This center is by far the most loosely defined (and sometimes the hardest to plan for!). A lot of times, at this center, I will incorporate math games that either review a past concept or relate to what we have recently learned. This free Connect Four: Multiplying Decimals game is an example of a game I created for use at this center. Other times I will create a more hands-on activity for them to complete. For example, when multiplying fractions, I had students use fraction dice and cards to create their own problems. They wrote their work on the answer sheet (FREE!) found in my TpT store at this link:

Fraction Multiplication Answer Sheet 

I love these Problems of the Month from Inside Mathematics!
Technology Center: This center can also fluctuate a bit. Our school IMC has iPads available to check out, so usually on Thursdays and Fridays I have students play math apps (from a list I have pre-selected!) on six of the iPads that I have checked out. On days without the iPads it varies greatly. I sometimes don't even use technology and have students working on these awesome (and once again free!) Problems of the Month, which are from the Inside Mathematics website. These problems are progressively more challenging applications of recently learned concepts and skills. I print and laminate six copies of one of these problems to have ready to go at the center. Students have about a week to work on each problem. The great part is that there are different levels, from easy to difficult, so students can work at their own pace. What you use for technology will really depend a lot on what you have available for you at your school. Be flexible and creative with what you have students working on!

Some common questions arise about starting math workshop, so I will try my best to answer a few. One of the most common is how and if students stay on task at all of the different centers. This was my biggest concern going into math workshop. After using math workshop for about a year now, I've found that if anything it has been easier for kids to stay on task. By moving around and changing activities every 10-15 minutes, it helps them get a quick movement break and refocus on a new activity. Sure, there will always be behavior issues at times, but these behavior issues probably would have occurred if students were being asked to sit through a "normal" class and worktime. Setting up routines at the beginning is very important and I have already done a better job this year compared to past years. I'm sure, like everything in teaching, I will find a way to make it that much better next year. I also use a behavior system where the class starts with four letters P-U-M-A. If I need to take away all four letters for not following expectations, then we lose math workshop for the following day. This is pretty good motivation for them, especially when we are planning to use iPads the next day!

Another question that comes up is the amount of preparation. To be honest, it is quite a bit of preparation up front. Having a bank of math games and some form of technology for the technology/hands-on center has been important for me. I do spend a lot of outside the classroom time getting things ready and creating activities, but it hasn't been completely overwhelming. I have been using math workshop for a few years now and I am already starting to notice less preparation because of materials I have ready to go! If you are just starting and want to stock up on a bunch of resources all at once, I have all of my 6th grade materials included in a Math Workshop Full Year Mega Bundle (Upper Elem/MS). This Mega Bundle (8th Grade Math) includes my 8th grade resources. I put these at a HUGE discount when compared to purchasing everything individually!

If you plan to start a math workshop structure in your class, my advice would be to find what works for you! I know some teachers who don't have a schedule that allows every group to go to every center each day, so they have them go to one or two centers per day. As far as I am concerned there isn't one right way to use math workshop. I would love to hear any ideas or answer any questions that you have in the comments section below!





50 comments :

  1. I just found this blog and read every entry. I have been wanting to implement Math Workshop forever and could never wrap my mind around how it might work. Your version makes it seem doable and now I'm excited to try it next year! Thanks!

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    1. Thanks! If you have any questions about what I have done let me know!

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  3. This is a great blog and I am glad I found it. I was hoping you could answer a couple questions for me
    1. Do you do math workshop everyday?
    2. How long is your class period?
    3. How long do they spend at each center?
    4. Do you explain each center before they begin the work for the day?

    Thanks

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    1. Thanks!
      1. I do math workshop on most days. Sometimes if I have some other special activity planned we don't have time for the rotations, so then I don't. For example, if we have a quiz, usually I don't have time to also do math workshop.

      2. 60 minute classes this year, however next year we are moving to 90 minute blocks.

      3. With the 60 minute classes, we usually end up with about 10 minutes per center. I also do a warm-up, mini-lesson, and wrap-up that takes time from the 60 minutes.

      4. If it is a new activity then I explain it. A lot of my centers are recurring activities, so once they have done them they don't need explanation (math game, iPads, etc.)

      Hope this helps!

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    2. Super helpful! Is there a way to email you?

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    3. Yes...feel free to email at middleschoolmathman@gmail.com!

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  4. Do you keep the students in the same groups all year? If not, how often do you change them?

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  5. I usually rotate them after each unit (every 2-3 weeks)! I have found it is nice to switch up the groups so that they are always working with different students!

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  6. Thanks for all the great information on math centers. I'm going to start these this week. I have a couple questions
    1. I was wondering when do you give feedback for the Problem Solving Center questions?
    2. What schedule would you recommend for a 45 minute class?

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    1. Great! Good luck with getting them started! As far as feedback, when I started I didn't have enough accountability at the Problem Solving center. I have started making answer sheets that I have students write and show their responses on. I then collect these and can assess student work and give some feedback.

      With only 45 minutes, the schedule would probably depend on you class sizes. What is your largest class?

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  7. My school does math centers and math workshop across all grade levels. Most of the students at my school have special needs and are on IEPs My biggest question is about guided math groups. About how many problems do you tend to get done with each group? I know that 10-12 minutes isn't a lot of time. We have about 15 minutes for groups. In addition to dry erase boards, what else do you use during the guided math group to make it more interactive? Do you ever use manipulatives? What other strategies do you have for making the guided math group most effective? I knew about the Inside Mathematics problems. I will have to print those out. I enjoyed reading your post.

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    1. Hi Nicholas!I apologize for taking so long to respond! The number of problems really depends on the student. On average, I would say they get through 4-6 problems, depending on the topic. For some of my students that are slower with computation/processing it might be 2-3 problems. My higher level students usually fly through my first 3-4 problems and then work on my enrichment problems.

      This year, I painted my front table with dry erase paint. Students LOVE working on it. I did a few other posts about the dry-erase table if you are interested in hearing more about it! I usually don't use many manipulatives at the front table, but will sometimes use them for the other centers. Hopefully this all helps! If you have questions let me know!

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  8. With this blog you really took our attention to the points that we never thought about. Thanks for sharing this with all of us. All the best, way to go

    Thanks
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  9. I am heading back to school after the Christmas break and am going to start Math Workshop today! I hope that I have everything planned out in order for it to run smoothly. I have 14 students in my 6th grade math class (I am also full time Curriculum Coach and only have this one class.) I am hoping that my lower students will excel. Any suggestions would be GREAT!

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    1. Sorry it took so long to respond! I hope your math workshop is off to a good start! If you have any questions... fire away! :)

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  10. I few questions...
    1. Do you give students a grade based on the station work?

    2. Do you assign the stations they didn't get finished as homework?

    Thanks! Great post!

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    1. Thank you! It really depends on what the station activity is. I recently put together a review packet as one of their stations for a week. Something like that I will collect and put in the grade book (as turned in or missing). We use a grading for learning model, so all homework is not graded, just marked as turned in or not. If the station is a math game or activity, I usually don't enter it but sometimes still collect their work.

      This is one aspect I am still trying to perfect... holding them accountable for these stations! :)

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  11. So glad you posted this! I'm a second year sixth grade math teacher and have been trying to think of ways to better engage and provide individualized instruction for my students. I'm still trying to think about how to fully implement this practically, but this post was extremely helpful. Thanks!

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  12. I'm struggling with the different levels I have in my room 6th. I have students who are above grade level and some that are still struggling with regrouping in subtraction and their multiplication facts. I do give them different questions depending on their level but am struggling with them either finishing all of them(highs) or those that are unable to do the most simple problems of the standard independently even after they show they get it with small group...they somehow forget everything we did in the 30 sec transition to independent work then I am unable to help because I'm with my next group. Any tips or have you experienced this to and how do you deal with it.

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    1. I would suggest that the work the students will be completing in the independent groups is a skill that they've already mastered. This way there's less interruption for help and the students will be able to finish the work.

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  13. I am teaching 8th Grade Algebra and also 8th Grade Pre-Algebra for the first time, and am looking for great ideas to begin the year as I work with stations for the first time.
    Approximately 1/2 of the students on my roster this year I have taught in 6th or 7th grade, and I want to do new and exciting things with them and take a different approach compared with how I have taught in the previous years. I appreciate any help and activities ideas you have.
    Thank you!

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    1. Thanks for the feedback and good luck this year! This will be my second year teaching a Math 8 class, in addition to 6th grade math. I also worked through trying to come up with new activities for the 8th graders that I had already taught. I have been using a lot of the same games and activities that I used in 6th grade, but created them for 8th grade math content. I think I am also going to look into doing more interactive notebook activities, but haven't had a chance to look into it too much yet!

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  14. It is just as if Dave Henry read my mind!! That's exactly my same situation.
    I've been following you in instagram and have some of your products fron tpt, they have been a great time and life savers, thanks! Now I'm so glad I discovered this blog and this specific topic which has been my greatest challenge for the past few years. Once again , of great help. Thanks

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  15. Where did you get the containers to store your task cards?

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  16. Do you have any videos of you teaching and demonstrating how this model works?

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  17. I'm very much inspired when I've visited your blog. Your blog is really informative. Please also update with videos, so we can demonstrate how above model works. Hope you will continue with new article with videos. Math Curriculum Ontario

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  18. I would love to see a video of this in action! Do you think you could upload one?

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  19. My colleagues and I would like to try math workshop at the 6th grade level but our classes are only 49 minutes long but we do see the kids every day...any advice on how to make it work in under 50 minutes with still getting smaller groups and enough work time at each station.

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  20. I've tried to have fewer stations/centers/activities. I also can't see every group/day. I try to always see the below grade level kids, then switch between the others. I used longer problems/projects for those groups to keep them engaged with their group.
    I only have 45 minutes and it flies. I've not been able to do workshop/centers/stations everyday due to time constraints. Some days are just whole class. I think it changes year to year because the students have different needs, abilities and learning styles. I do think that manipulatives are still important for 6th graders. It's sometimes more challenging to show the work if they've been taught to "just do this" algorithm. The WHY is so important to knowing the concepts and not simply computing to find an answer. One last thing is that using problems with a context is more realistic than always using a set of practice problems. It hopefully "makes" them notice if their answers makes sense. Ex: multiplying decimals to find 8% tax on a $6.50 item. Placing the decimal properly has more connection because one wouldn't want to pay more tax than the item costs. :)

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  23. I'm very much inspired when I've visited your blog. your blog is very nice and informative! Hope you will continue with new article. Math Curriculum

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  24. What do you use for your students who are testing well below grade level? I have several students in 7th grade testing at the 3-4th grade level and I am at a lost on what to prepare for them

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    1. We are doing intervention blocks within our class. We are using MobyMax and IXL to have the students work on fact fluency.

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  26. I'm very much inspired when I've visited your blog. your blog is very nice and informative! Hope you will continue with new article.
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  27. I have been trying to implement a math workshop for years and have been unsuccessful. This blog and your book have really helped. I have a question about the Problem of the Month. When you give the students one of these do they have the month to solve it? Do you go over the answers with the students? Thank you so much.

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  30. Are the math workshop days focused on the particular skill students are being tested on or are they a review of previously learned concepts?

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  32. Quick question. How and when do you go over the homework with the students. And if we are taking two days to complete a rotation, do you have the 1st day kids show you their homework for completion the following day and then wait to go over it after day 2?

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  33. I have bought and read your book. I'm interested in trying the workshop format for my 6th grade classes but my class sizes are much larger than yours. I have 33-36 students in each class. I don't have regular access to technology (so I can't plan on a tech station). If I have 5 students in each group, would I have to plan for 6-7 different stations (since I'd have 6-7 groups)? Teacher station, HW station, problem-solving station, hands-on/game station...is as far as I got (stations you've suggested in your book/blog). I'm also worried about fitting it all in just one 60 min period...it takes time for kids to transition and settle down. I don't want to switch them around too quickly. HELP! (Thank you!)

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  34. I have been reading your website and using your cards and games for awhile now, and want to thank you for the great ideas. My kiddos love the weekly challenge problems! I've been wanting to put the workshop into place in my class and have been reading your book on how I might do so. I have a question about using task cards in the teacher center. You wrote in your book that you rarely have a student complete both the task card and enrichment card in one 15 minute rotation. Do you have the students work on only one card from each set, each day, such as one task and one enrichment on Monday, and then one and one on Tuesday, and so on, so as to spread the cards out though the unit; or do you have them work on as many as they can complete based on skill level?

    Thanks again for all the great resources.
    Stephanie

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  35. I teach 7th/8th Grade math. We had all of our math and english blocks set for 80 minutes. Now we have two 45 minute periods through out the day but they are not back to back. How would you set up workshops for this schedule?

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