3 Practical Ways to Supercharge Your Math Stations in Upper Elementary

Check out these three practical, but powerful ways to supercharge your math stations and make the most of math center time! #mathcenters #math
When you think of math stations or centers what is the first thing you think of? Do you think primary grades? Me too! When it was first suggested to me I use math centers in my 4th-grade classroom I scoffed and didn't think twice about it. Then, a couple weeks later, I was observing in a co-worker's room and was in absolute awe at the power of how her student's used math stations with independence and confidence. 

I had always thought math centers were more of a game and a waste of precious classroom time, but seeing her students using their math vocabulary and strategies with partners really sealed the deal for me. I knew I had to give them a try with my students. 

I left her room ready to go, but I wanted to go in with a game plan. After school, we chatted and she gave me her three secrets to supercharge math stations and make them much more than a game. 

Build a Routine

The first secret to making math stations powerful is to make them part of the classroom routine. 

There is something to be said for novelty, but if you want math centers to be a big part of your math block they have to be permanent. You have to commit to using them on a regular basis, if not daily. 

The power of math stations comes from the repetition and practice. This is the time students move from merely understanding a math topic to mastery. It is important we place value on this time because it is when students develop connections between their learning. 

When you protect the time for math stations and don't sacrifice it your students will see the value you place on it and respect the time as well.

Build in Accountability

In my mind, the difference between a math game and a math station is accountability. 

Math games are fun and are used from time to time in the classroom, but usually only broken out for special occasions or indoor recess when we are trying to sneak in a little bit of math. 

Math centers, on the other hand, are standards-based and targeted at students needs. They are differentiated to meet students where they are and can be used to practice the skill students are currently learning or keep a skill from the past fresh on their minds. 

Check out these three practical, but powerful ways to supercharge your math stations and make the most of math center time! #mathcenters #math
By keeping students accountable for the completion and accuracy of their work you ensure they are putting their best foot forward. 

Accountability can be achieved in many different ways. 

The easiest way to keep students accountable is through recording sheets. I prefer to have students complete a recording sheet for most math stations to show their work and reflect on their thinking. These recording sheets can be collected or saved for a running record of student work on a skill. 

Another way to keep students accountable during math centers is to have students complete a self-reflection afterward. These reflections work as a mini-audit of students' work in which they can write down questions, share their learning, and reflect on how hard they worked. 

If students are working with a partner or small group they can also complete a reflection on how they worked together. 

Set Clear Expectations

As stated before when talking about building math stations into your routine, if you show your students math center time is valued they will value it as well. 

The BEST way to show students you value this time is by setting clear expectations, and the BEST way to set clear expectations with students is to clearly think through the process before bringing it to your students. 

Before you even think about introducing math stations to your class make sure you have a plan for:
  • How you will prep the stations?
  • How will you store stations?
  • How will you organize stations?
  • Do I have all the materials for 
  • How will students be partnered or will they work independently?
  • Where will students work on stations?
  • What will students do if they have a question during stations?
  • How students will clean up their station?
  • What will students do when they complete a station?
  • How long will students work on each station?
  • How will you hold students accountable for their station work?
Once you have an answer for all these questions you are ready to share your expectations with your students. Just remember practice makes perfect, and beginning stations is no exception. 

Once your routine and expectations are set for the year all you do is change the content! 

Where Do I Find Quality Stations?

When looking for math centers for your students focus on quality and content.

A quality math station will have all the things you need and be easy to prep. Due to the pieces making up math centers there will always be a little bit of prep but it can be minimal. Quality math stations also include teacher and student directions as well as recording sheets and answer keys when applicable.

As far as content goes, I prefer to use stations focused on the standard we are learning about currently in class. This allows students to see a skill or standard in multiple ways throughout the unit and lends itself towards mastery.
Check out these three practical, but powerful ways to supercharge your math stations and make the most of math center time! #mathcenters #math
With these things in mind, I created these math stations. Each set of stations has ten complete stations based on one standard complete with student and teacher directions, recording sheets and answer keys when applicable, and content vocabulary. In addition, all of the stations are created entirely in black and white to make printing and prep easy. Just print on colored paper and go!

Check out these stations here:
2nd Grade
3rd Grade
4th Grade
5th Grade

10 Powerful Management Tips for Surviving in the Classroom

I stood by my desk and looked around the room. It was total chaos. I don't mean a mess, I mean completely and totally unruly. My students had control of the classroom, and they were running over me like a freight train. 
10 Effective, yet practical tips for surviving in the classroom. This is a must read if you are feeling the burn out and want to love your classroom again!
After my students left for the day I decided there had to be a change. It was only November, and we had a long way to go in the year together. I knew it was up to me to make this change.

So I put in the hours. I stayed late that night and cleaned the room from top to bottom. I rearranged the furniture into a completely new pattern. I wanted it to be as if my students were walking into a completely new classroom the next day.

While all the physical changes helped to set the scene for my students, what mattered the most was my mind shift when it came to classroom management. The whole time I had been changing the room I had been thinking about how to change the strategies which were lacking and replace them with strategies that would put the responsibility squarely on my students' shoulders because I knew they would rise to the occasion because here's the thing, this group of students was a great group which is precisely how I let them take me down this rabbit hole.

The previous year my class was a really tough group. They had a reputation rising through the grade levels, and by the time they reached me in fourth they knew how to get away with proverbial murder, but I didn't let them. Knowing their reputation I put measures in place to ensure we had a great year, and we did.

This new group was such a breath of fresh air and I allowed them a lot of breathing room. Too much. They took the inch I gave them, and they ran with it. Sprinted actually. By the time I wisened up it was going to take a drastic shift to change the course of our year, so that was exactly what I did.

You might be reading along and nodding your head because you have been there. You might also be laughing at me because you know where I went wrong and would never, ever fall into that pitfall yourself. Either way, we can all use a little reminder of what NOT to do.

Don't Get Complacent 

As I just said, I had come off of a really challenging year for students. That year had gone well due to high expectations and sticking with a plan, but it sucked the life out of me. I had to be on all day every day, no matter what. 

With this new group, I saw an opportunity to relax and give myself some breathing room. The problem was I let it go too far. Soon students who under normal circumstances would have been thriving were going off the handle because they could. 

I had to take back the high expectations I had kept for students every year and enforce them. My students, of course, rose to the occasion and immediately began to shine. 

The moral of this little diddy is even when you have a great group of students, keep your expectations high from day one. I am by no means suggesting the "Don't smile until Christmas" approach, but instead being fair and firmly asserting the classroom is for learning. 

Conquer the Attention Seeker

One thing which can really take the air out of the room is an attention seeker. I have experienced many brands of this type of student over the years, but the one thing they have in common is their ability to take over a classroom. 

10 Effective, yet practical tips for surviving in the classroom. This is a must read if you are feeling the burn out and want to love your classroom again! The unique thing about an attention seeker is they are rarely the student you first think of when contemplating challenging students, but yet they are the ones who often take up the most energy. 

This year, my attention seeker was a sweet boy who just wanted my attention. He was a teacher pleaser and tried with all his might to get reactions from me all day long. When my attention was elsewhere he would act out drawing the attention back to himself. 

With a class full of diligent students I found myself spending more time with this specific student because it was just easier, but as time went by more students started displaying these same attention seeking traits as a way to balance out the attention throughout the room, and then I was in trouble. 

 The GREAT news about an attention seeker is they are in it for the attention, and positive attention works wonders to break the cycle. Coincidentally, it is 1000% easier on me to provide positive, regular attention than it is to correct attention-seeking behaviors. 

I sat down and made a list of ways I could shower my friend with positive attention. I shared that list in this post.

Make Student-Teacher Relationships a Priority

One thing I had glossed over this year was building meaningful relationships with my students. I mean, we had done all the requisite get to know you activities at the beginning of the year and I spoke with students on a regular basis about their lives, but I had missed a step. 

In years past I had implored the 2x10 method the first few weeks of school to really build bonds. With this strategy, you spend 2 minutes a day with a student talking about anything they want to for ten days straight. It may not seem like a lot, but it really ads up. I would start on day one and usually speak with 2-3 students a day in the morning before school started, in the lunch line, or after school with those who stayed for after-school care. This meant I made it through my class of 22-24 students within the first three weeks of school. 

These conversations really set the tone for our relationship through the year, because students felt they were listened to and valued. I love getting to know what drives a student, and these conversations often led me exactly there. 

Build Students Up

When things are going swimmingly in a classroom, or not, it is easy to forget how fragile a student's self-esteem can be. When we work with students to build up their self-esteem we are building more positive, aware individuals. 

This does not mean we overinflate their egos and lead them to believe they are the best person to ever walk the earth. What it does mean is we praise their efforts and progress over results and show them what it means to have grit and determination. 

When we work to build our students up, they do the same for one another which is a beautiful thing. 

For more on supporting students' self-esteem, check out this post

Be an Example

Throw out the do what I say not as I do and really lead your students by example. 

This might mean showing them how to practice positive self-talk, how to problem solve when they and a friend are having a conflict, or readers really are leaders. 

Our students are ALWAYS watching us, and we would be remiss to skip out on this valuable learning opportunity. In the classroom, we are the authority, and what we do is more important than what we say. 

This encompasses items big and small. For example, are students allowed to drink soda throughout the day? Likely not, so why are you drinking a Dr. Pepper in front of them? (I am totally guilty of this.) Instead, take the opportunity to be an example of a healthy lifestyle by drinking water, like they likely are, and chug caffeine when out of sight. 😉

Throughout the day there are so many ways to be an example for our students including showing determination, being flexible when plans inevitably change and being a good friend. 

Follow a Routine

I know every day in the classroom is going to look totally different, but there are many things which can stay the same. Bank on this routine, because students, and humans, in general, thrive when they can predict what is happening. It makes our brains happy. 

When students know how to predict what is happening next it puts them at ease, allows them to bring their guards down, and prepares them for learning. 

An informed class is most often also an engaged class. 

Take Care of Their Needs

A student who missed breakfast is not in the best position to learn. Neither is a student who doesn't know who is picking them up from school or who doesn't have a coat to walk home in. 

Food, water, sleep, and shelter are things our students shouldn't have to worry about, but in truth they do. 

It is part of our responsibility to make sure our students' needs are met. When these basic needs are not met a student may lash out or just be unable to function. I know I fall into the latter camp.  

While we would like for our students to come to school ready to learn, it isn't a reality for all students.

If your school serves breakfast, ask students if they ate on the way in. I always kept a box of generic cereal or crackers in my cabinet for those who either missed breakfast or weren't able to eat it for some reason.

Allow students to drink water throughout the day. We were fortunate enough to have a water fountain in our classroom, but I also had students bring in water bottles. Hydration is highly underrated, and can really affect the ability to learn.

Ask your students about their sleeping patterns and their home lives. This isn't to be nosy, but instead to get a more complete picture of their life and what struggles may overlap into the classroom. One year I had a student whose mom worked the late shift and didn't get home until past midnight, but he wasn't able to fall asleep until he heard her open the front door. This meant he was often exhausted in class, and sometimes unable to function. We worked together, with the school nurse, and determined when he felt it was necessary it was better to give up half an hour for him to take a short nap than try and push through the day.

Our students all come to school with their lives spinning in their heads. While the classroom may be a safe place, it doesn't mean they get to forget about what is going on outside.

Give Students Responsibility

Students of all ages should be assigned responsibility for themselves and within their classrooms. This might mean classroom jobs, practicing self-control, or simply being responsible for their own actions. 

Responsibility is going to look different at every grade level and for every student, but ensuring students are responsible for themselves and their actions goes a long way towards maturity. 

This goes right along with keeping high expectations. Students rise to the occasion time and time again to impress those around them with their ability to take on tasks and complete them beyond expectation. 

Practice Respect

 Respect is a two-way street is a cliche for a reason.

I do not personally believe someone has to show you respect in order to receive it from you, and I certainly believe each and every one of our students deserves our respect from day one. There should not have to be a time in which they earn your respect. Privileges yes, but respect no.

The classroom is THE best place for us to model this for our students. Show them respect and require they respect their classmates as well. I like to tell my students about how teachers are all colleagues, and in turn so are students. Everyone in the class is on a level playing field, deserves respect, and has something to offer the group.

When you start from a place of respect, it is easier to build relationships and a true community.

Plan for Engagement

As teachers, we spend a lot of time planning. Essentially we plan to plan, and for the most part, we enjoy the planning process, but sometimes it gets tedious. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of, "Well, this worked last year, so let's do it again."

When we plan we have to take into account our current students. Just because a lesson was a rock star last year does not mean it will fit the needs of this year's students. Sometimes it will, but we have to know when to walk away. 

When we plan with our current students in mind we automatically up engagement, and then we can explore even higher engagement strategies like cooperative learning and passion projects to up the ante. 

When students are engaged in their learning they automatically up their buy-in and that is a beautiful thing. 

20 Books for Texas History

20 books to use while learning Texas history. These books are sure to engage students with facts and stories all about Texas!
Texas History is so hard to squeeze into our already packed schedules, so sometimes the only way to get it done is by incorporating books. Fortunately, there are a TON of awesome choices out there. Here are some of my favorites.

The links included in this post are Amazon affiliate links. This means if you click a link and make a purchase Amazon gives me a little something back to help pay to upkeep this blog and my email list. This does not change the price you pay in any way.

Click on any of the book covers to check out the book on Amazon.

I LOVE to read L is for Lonestar on the first day of school. It is a great introduction to all things Texas and gets students excited to learn more throughout the year. Another quick read from the same series is Round Up, all based on the numbers of Texas.

The Alamo is one of our students' favorite topics, and that means any book they can get their hands on will be exciting. I like to provide a variety of titles that will continue to peak their interest and keep them learning.

Once students get hooked on the Alamo they start to venture more into the colonization of Texas and the Texas Revolution, and the leadership of the Texas Army including their leader, Sam Houston.
One series that both my students and I absolutely adore is the Bluebonnet books by Mary Brooke Casad. The author visited my school when I was in 3rd grade, and I still share my signed copy with students!
When learning about legends and tall tales of Texas my favorites to share with students are The Legend of the Bluebonnet and Pecos Bill, but we throw in Armadillo Rodeo too, because who can pass up Jan Brett?
When we are talking about geography and regions I love to have books available that allow students to see the different cities around the state. Larry Gets Lost in Texas is a great book for just this reason because students connect to the story while hearing a little bit about many of the cities around the state.
No matter what books you choose and whether you get them for your classroom or borrow from the library, your students are sure to fall in love with Texas history through reading! 

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