It was bound to happen...we love the station-based, two teacher approach to literacy so much it was only a matter of time before we transferred that over to math!
Some examples of our Math Pit Journals. Gotta love the math humour!
Of course,many people are already using math stations as part of their regular teaching practice in math. In fact, when my sister-in-law did her practicum many years ago in New Zealand her sponsor teacher taught math solely using a station-based approach, a practice that was built in to the Kiwi curriculum. Many people, however, are just looking at adopting this structure, realizing, as we have, that it allows you to really reach all learners, no matter what their readiness level.
Our adventures in Math Pit actually started with a false start; initially, the plan had been to take several of our Gr. 5-6 classes and regroup the students according to achievement in various strands of math, throw in an extra teacher or two and create a multi-class, multi-teacher model for teaching math. While this model had a lot going for it, there were some flaws that we just couldn't wrap our heads around - scheduling was a big one, with teachers feeling out of touch with the needs of the students in their classroom coming a close second. Once we realized that this just wasn't the model for us, we explored other options. And then it hit me - I had three 1 hour blocks open in the Lit Pit. Could we do Math Pit? A quick text to a willing guinea pig and I had my answer - yes, yes we could.
Yay! I love trying new things!
Then we had to plan this thing called Math Pit. I knew that there were some key parts of the Lit Pit that we wanted to maintain - leveled groups, 2 teaching stations & the element of love for learning that we try to foster in the Lit Pit - the rest was a blank slate.
In consultation with one of our teachers who already uses math stations quite effectively, we started by deciding what each station was going to be. Here is what we ended up with:
- Teacher-led instruction
- Guided practice
- Unit Practice
- Interactive notebooks
- Math Facts
- Math Games
We then proceeded to draw out our rotation - by far the most confusing part of the whole process! See my diagram below for what our rotation looks like.
Here's what we've realized: because of the rotating nature of the stations, some students end up at unit practice or guided practice before they make it to the teacher-led lesson. It's rather hard to practice something you haven't learned yet, so we have had to tweak it such that the teacher-led lesson (classroom teacher) and the guided practice (me) are relatively interchangeable. In this way, some groups do the lesson with me and others with the classrooom teacher, then do the guided practice with the opposite person. In many ways this is good, as the classroom teacher and I do not necessarily teach in the same way, so the students get to see multiple ways of approaching different concepts.
If you're up on your station-based approach, you'll have realized that there is still a small flaw in our plan...yep, you guessed it - one group still goes to unit practice without ever having had a lesson (confused? See the diagram below for the way our rotation works and remember that when the kids walk in on day one, each group goes to their corresponding station; there are no empty stations). We have not quite resolved this one - at times we call that group over (we have intentionally placed our strongest group there) for a quick mini-lesson and at times we have them work on a review of last week's concept. Because it is our strongest kids that are there, they often rise to the challenge of reading the text book and figuring the concept out for themselves (this, in fact, was their suggestion for resolving this problem. Smart kids!).
One of our Math Facts station questions and some of the answers our kiddos came up with. So interesting to see how each group tackled the problem!
This is one of the things I love best about the set up of the Lit Pit, and now the Math Pit, for our intermediate students; differentiation happens by virtue of so many factors, many of which require no extra planning on the part of the teacher (hello, Universal Design for Learning!). By intentionally placing our strongest group in a situation where they have to figure out for themselves what to do, we are challenging them; at the same time, we scaffold and support the lesson for our weaker students by ensuring that they receive the lesson immediately before going to unit practice, followed by another teacher led station the next day for follow-up. This structure does not require that we plan different lessons or activities for each group (although we can - and do!) but intrinsically allows us to meet their needs, ensuring that we are differentiating without increasing teacher work load.
In laying out our rotation, we initially started with three 20 minute stations a day. This meant that Day 3 was a repeat of Day 1, so we carefully considered which groups would benefit from a repeat of which stations, altering starting positions and rotation to ensure that each group was getting the most of what they needed.
What we realized: Several weeks in, we realized that 20 minute stations were not quite long enough for some groups and some concepts, so we have switched to 2-30 minute stations. At times this is too long, but we have found it is easier to fill the time with math games or problem-solving activities than it is to try and cram in the learning for students who need more time understanding a concept.
There are, of course, logistical challenges beyond station rotation. Behaviour management, for one. With 4 independent stations, there is the potential for mass chaos if the students at those stations are not engaged in their task. The solution here has proved to be relatively simple - ensure that the tasks at each station are at the level of the groups working at that station. If work is too difficult or too easy, you will have problems. Taking the time to make sure that your students know what they should be doing and that they are able to do it goes a long ways to ensuring a good day in the Math Pit. Of course, some extremely dedicated and competent para-professionals (CEAs in our district, EAs in many others) don't hurt either! We are very grateful for all of the extra support we are able to pull in to the Lit Pit and Math Pit (see this post for suggestions on including others in your station-based approach)!
Another logistical challenge is what happens on the 2 days per week when that class in not in Math Pit; in our case, the classroom teacher does a whole class lesson on the same topic, preps any interactive notebook work and explores other topics in math that we may not touch on in Math Pit.
This is the beatuy of the Lit Pit and Math Pit - the classroom teacher always knows exactly what his/her students have been working on and is able to follow up as needed in the classroom. In a traditional pull-out model of support, obtaining the degree of synchronicity between myself and the classroom teacher would require such a large amount of time as to be unmanageable. With this model, we are both on the same page at all times. Quick 5 minute conversations as they walk out the door and we know exactly who needs what to be successful.
Sigh. I really do love that piece of it.
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about literacy, collaborative teaching and finding new and innovative ways to engage & motivate all kids. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!