Reflections and Resources from Tarheelstate Teacher
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On Disasters, Compassion, and Taking Action

Calling all #teacherchangemakers! Hurricane Harvey has devastated homes, schools, businesses, and more with flooding and wind damage. Today I'm sharing a multitude of tangible ways you can help teachers, classrooms, and schools affected by the storm.
I'm sure you've heard and seen the news, so I won't go in to detail except to say, I am calling on you to TAKE SOME FORM OF ACTION to help fellow teachers and students in need. 

During times of tragedy and devastation, we can often feel so overwhelmed that we don't know how to act. 

Truthfully, in our minds, we know we can't help everyone, and there will soon be another disaster or tragedy that pulls at our heartstrings.

So, often we just don't take action. 

I am guilty of this. I have compassionate feelings #allthetime. I have inspiring ideas for helping others every time I am fortunate enough to be in tune with my emotions and my sense of empathy. 

And then I get busy, something else gets my attention, and I don't act. 

I'm trying not to do that with Hurricane Harvey and I'm making it a point to not sit paralyzed by inaction when things happen in the future.

In the past week, it has helped me to think about compassion and ask myself, "What would I want someone to do for me if I were in this position?"

I can think of a few short things.
  • It would console me to know that I'm not alone.
  • It would help me to know that someone was trying to help me.
  • My job of teaching children would not feel so overwhelming if I knew I had someone to call on (that wasn't in the same situation as me) that is working to help me fill my needs.
Many of you know that I'm not currently in the classroom. I'm unable to use the 20+ little #changemakers in my own classroom to adopt a classroom or launch a school wide service learning effort, but again, I know I can still do a lot. 

Here's what I'm doing:
  • I've compiled the efforts for helping teachers affected by Harvey into a google doc. You can access that here
  • I've messaged and emailed teachers in my circle to provide them with information on how to sponsor classrooms. At least three teachers at three different schools have taken me up on my offer to send information to them. 
  • I'm attempting to get my daughter's school to sponsor a school or classroom. 
  • I've reached out to neighbors and asked them if their youth groups would like to sponsor a classroom. 
  • I am personally sponsoring a 4th grade classroom in Texas.
  • I've donated to a Go Fund Me launched by Dawn Vinas of Social Studies Success. (This was the first thing I did while I was overwhelmed with compassion. Isn't just donating a bit of cash the first way many of us respond in times of need?)  
From Dawn's Go Fund Me info: 

"In addition to the basic necessities, teachers will need to be able to support their students with educational materials - books, classroom supplies, clothing for students, and necessities they can take to their shelter. The funds raised will go directly to teachers in affected of Houston. These districts include Alief ISD, Aldine ISD, Galena Park ISD, Cy-Fair ISD, Sheldon ISD, Dickinson ISD, Clear Creek ISD, Pearland ISD and Klein ISD."

What can you do? 
  • Approach your principal about sponsoring a school. I think a beautiful way for a school to sponsor a school would be to match teachers to teachers (at the same grade level) and allow students to develop a relationship with one another all year. 
  • If your principal is not up for a school-wide effort, start with your classroom or your grade level. Pass on information to other teachers that you think would like to sponsor a classroom and make it a grass-roots effort.
  • Teachers know teachers at other schools. Reach out to your other teacher friends and pass along information to them. They may be eager to help but just don't know how. 
We hope that those who make connections with classroom teachers try to do more than a one-time effort as the needs will be great all year. One idea is to mark your calendar for the same date each month to remind yourself to send something (cards, gift cards, supplies, check in, etc) on that date.

While even sponsoring a classroom may seem overwhelming, I'm coming from a place of abundance and I believe that I will have the means to help my adopted teacher with what she needs. I know I can reach out again to neighbors, family, and friends to assist me with helping. 

People are often eager to help when they know someone's story. TRULY, I BELIEVE THAT MOST PEOPLE WANT TO HELP. It just seems too overwhelming to know where to start and then we move on with our lives. BY BEING THE ONE TO SHARE AN EASY LIST OF WAYS TO HELP, we can help others TAKE ACTION. 

To end today, I want to share an excerpt from Love, Teach who is from Houston. She wrote about her experiences in this blog post On Harvey and Helping
"Imagine that for four days in a row, the text thread you wake up to is one in which you and your friends and family are checking on each other to see whose homes have water inside them, who needs help. And when someone doesn’t respond on the text thread, it is no longer absurd to assume something terrible has happened, because something terrible is happening.
Imagine seeing videos posted by nationally syndicated news organizations featuring people from your hometown. These are people that you passed in the halls of your high school, being interviewed by camera crews as they drive their boats down the middle of streets where you grew up searching for those who need rescue, the wake of their boat lapping up onto rooftops.
Imagine people you love spending the night in lines of cots in middle school gyms and cafeterias, churches, the inside of a furniture store. Imagine not being able to get them.
Imagine that during all of this, it’s still raining, and that it will be raining for another three days."
I truly can't imagine this. I'm copying a list of ways to help from her post. I hope you will find a way to rally your students and your schools to do something to make a difference for those affected by the storm.

If YOU are a teacher affected by the storm, please use any of these links to add your name to a list to be adopted. Myself and other teachers are seeking ways to help you!

Links on how to help/donate:

Adopt a Texas Classroom: info and link to a Google Doc to be directly matched with a teacher needing donations post-Harvey
Bear Creek Elementary Amazon Wish List: needs for students affected by Harvey at Bear Creek Elementary in Katy ISD
Cardiff Junior High Amazon Wish List: needs for students affected by Harvey at Cardiff Junior High in Katy ISD (Ship to: Cardiff Junior High, 3900 Dayflower Dr., Katy TX 77449)
Dickinson Education Foundation Needs: Dickinson ISD
The Galloway School: School in Friendswood, TX that flooded and has no insurance
Flood of Friendship: Gift cards for teachers in flooded areas
Houston ISD Supplies/Donation Fund: Houston ISD
How to Donate to Friendswood, TX: Facebook group with links to GoFundMe accounts, Amazon Wish Lists, local organizations, and and individuals coordinating with displaced families
Hurricane Harvey Teachers In Need: Facebook group for Houston teachers to post needs OR teachers who want to help to be matched with a teacher in need
LSA Hurricane Relief fund: fund to help restore school featured in the image at the top of this post
Mayde Creek High School Amazon Wish List: Katy ISD
Mayde Creek Junior High Amazon Wish List: Katy ISD
Pearland ISD: Beginning Tuesday, Sept. 5, you can drop off or mail gift card donations at the Virgil Gant Education Support Center (1928 N. Main, Pearland, TX, 77581). For more information, please contact Communications Coordinator Lexi Marshall.
South Houston Intermediate Amazon Wish List: Pasadena ISD
Spring Branch Pledgecents: supporting Spring Branch ISD families affected by Harvey
Teacher Harvey Relief: an individual I know personally who is coordinating with HISD and Cy-Fair teachers who are displaced or have damaged homes
Texans Helping Teachers: Facebook page where teachers can post needs to be met/matched by others


Links for teachers (or anyone) who might need help repairing/restocking homes or classrooms:

Adopt a Texas Classroom: info and link to fill out a form to receive help from those wanting to be matched with a teacher
Hurricane Harvey Teachers In Need: teachers can post needs to be matched with other classrooms across the country
Mormon Helpings Hands Hurricane Harvey Recovery: Call hotline to submit work order (800) 451-1954 or (844) 965-1386. These folks are amazing, y'all. You don't have to be Mormon! :)
Teacher Harvey Relief: an individual I know personally who is coordinating with HISD and Cy-Fair teachers who are displaced or have damaged homes
Texans Helping Teachers: Teachers can post needs to be filled by others


{Essential} Math Stations Rotation Template

My math stations rotation template is perhaps the most essential tool I use to plan for and manage my math rotations. I use it to map out the variety of activities my students will complete, create small groups for interventions or enrichment, and organize student groups that will work well together. Today, I'm also sharing how my math stations are differentiated, even if the differentiation is not readily apparent on the assignment template.
I'm sharing how I schedule my math stations rotations. Grab your free editable math rotations station template for upper elementary math stations. Learn how my math stations are differentiated within the schedule of assignments.
During math stations, my students don't necessarily work together on assignments, but they do often share the same space (at the carpet, at a table) and materials (task cards, manipulatives, etc). As you are aware, grouping students can be a huge headache and lack of good behavior or a sense of urgency is often a reason teachers decide that small groups and math stations are not worth the fuss.

Well, to organize my math stations, I type up my math station rotations and assignments into a Powerpoint. I keep behavior and ability in mind as I'm assigning students to their stations. I think about whether or not I want the students group heterogeneously (everyone will eventually complete this task and I can focus more on separating behavior issues) or homogeneously (the task is differentiated).

The beauty of planning with my PowerPoint template is that I can duplicate the slides and change the assignments for the next week's round of stations. If I need to tweak any of my student groups (because of behavior or performance), I can do this easily, because I already have a template to work from.

I don't know if it's just me, but I put a lot of thought into creating small groups. I think about so many aspects and it takes time. But, after I do it again and again and revise groups based on behavior and student needs, it gets easier and easier.

How I go about scheduling students into math stations:


I'm sharing how I schedule my math stations rotations. Grab your free editable math rotations station template for upper elementary math stations. Learn how my math stations are differentiated within the schedule of assignments.

1) Using a pre-assessment, assignment, and/or classroom observations, I sort my students on a continuum of understanding. My continuum levels typically look like this:

I'm sharing how I schedule my math stations rotations. Grab your free editable math rotations station template for upper elementary math stations. Learn how my math stations are differentiated within the schedule of assignments.
  • BUILDING BLOCKS: Students need to focus on below-grade level standards that relate to the grade-level standards we are working on
  • GOALS: Students are ready for grade-level work
  • More Challenging Grade Level Goals: Students are ready for more challenging grade-level work
  • STRETCHING BEYOND: Students are ready for beyond grade-level work
2) Next, I create my "meet with the teacher" small groups (if I feel that this is the best use of myself based on student data and student needs) and I plug my small groups into the schedule first since these are less flexible. I've shared that I don't always have a "meet with the teacher" rotation because I find that I'm often more useful when I'm "on my feet" and able to work with students as they complete their rotation assignments.
I'm sharing how I schedule my math stations rotations. Grab your free editable math rotations station template for upper elementary math stations. Learn how my math stations are differentiated within the schedule of assignments.
If I do not put "meet with the teacher" into my schedule, the groups I've created based on the continuum of abilities still comes into play when I make my assignments. I can put a little star on my schedule to note specific groups and students that I want to make sure I provide support to.

3) Next, I consider the assignments I want students to complete during these rotations. I really like for students to have independent work, but I want them to benefit from moving around the room during stations, so I try to make sure students only have one “At Your Seat” type of activity each day. (In this example, the Movie Theater problems and Algebraic Thinking stations are “At Your Seat” activities. (it helps to color code "at seat" assignments as I have done in teal).
I'm sharing how I schedule my math stations rotations. Grab your free editable math rotations station template for upper elementary math stations. Learn how my math stations are differentiated within the schedule of assignments.
If you look at the top half of my schedule (Day 1 rotations), students who will meet with me on this day now need an “At Your Seat” activity. These students will usually not do Boom Learning (or a game or another "hands-on activity") on the same day that they have met with me. So I plug them in to the Movie Theater Problems or Algebraic Thinking (or a set of paper-based task cards) next.

4) Now that I know when students will "meet with the teacher," I can also place them into a Boom Learning slot (or game, hands-on, partner activity) on the opposite day. (Again, since they won't be meeting with me that day, this gives them more engagement and movement away from their desk.

Then, I continue assigning students until all have been scheduled for each day and each rotation.

Tweaking the system


After the first day of rotations, I review the schedule for the next day, thinks about student behavior and needs, and make any adjustments. For example, if someone had poor behavior in a task card station, I can ensure that they work on task cards at their desk the following day. Reviewing my Day 2 assignments is also an opportunity for me to decide that a student needs a second day on the topic we are currently working on. Perhaps I pull them into a small group again and they do not complete “Algebraic Thinking” that week. You have permission to make these kinds of decisions!


For the love of differentiation!



But I also want to clarify something so that you do not get the wrong impression. While I passionately believe in differentiation,
I do not believe that every station or every set of rotations must have differentiated, individualized work for each student.
I do love and believe in stations because they provide me with an awesome structure for differentiation in math, but I also love stations for a lot of other reasons.

With that said, sometimes differentiation is happening in our assignments in "not so obvious" ways.

Here are some ways that student assignments are differentiated in my math stations:


1) Task Cards and Boom Learning are differentiated assignments. When necessary, I assign different sets of task cards to different student groups. For example, when working on Subtracting Fractions with regrouping, students may work on subtracting fractions from a whole number (level 1), subtracting fractions from a mixed number with LIKE denominators (level 2), or subtracting mixed numbers with unlike denominators (level 3). I print each level of these task cards on different colors of cardstock so that I can just note which color students should start with on my rotation schedule.

In Boom Learning, I can assign students many sets of task cards and they can complete them as they are ready. Students can also play the same task card sets again and again to demonstrate mastery or gain more practice. Since Boom Cards are self-checking, students get immediate feedback. Everyone can work at their own pace and I can intervene with students who need more support.

2) My Real-World Themed Word Problem sets are differentiated with three levels of challenge (building blocks, goals, and stretching beyond). These can be assigned to students based on their level of mastery. I recommend taking at least one step back from their mastery level to give students more practice and help them build confidence or just assign all three levels of the problem set because the problem sets are themed and all sets build on one another (my preference).
I'm sharing how I schedule my math stations rotations. Grab your free editable math rotations station template for upper elementary math stations. Learn how my math stations are differentiated within the schedule of assignments.
Because the levels start at below-grade level standards and get increasingly more challenging, students are able to show deficits and higher levels of mastery than if they only completed a grade-level based assignment. If you are not tied down to a small group, you can help students work through the challenges presented by each level.

3) When students “Meet with the Teacher” that instruction can be fully differentiated with different lessons and materials, or I can use the same materials but differentiate by simply “meeting students where they are,” teaching them different or modified procedures, and instructing them from that point. {You know, how we teachers differentiate on the fly?}

Other Parts on the Rotation Assignment Schedule:

Date and Instructional Focus

I highly recommend saving your rotation schedules/plans. I like starting a separate file for each new unit of study. I am sure to put the date of the week or station days and the instructional focus.

When I started using a PowerPoint template to plan my math stations, I realized that by saving those plans, I would always have evidence of how I differentiated my math instruction for ALL of my students. If an EC teacher or parent had questions about how I was meeting their child's needs, I could refer to my rotation schedules as my "notes" for how I modified assignments for them. If a parent of a gifted student had questions about how I was challenging their child, I could show them that I have levels of assignments in my rotations and that their student was completing assignments that other students did not.

Tips for Displaying your Rotations for the Day


You could put each rotation on a separate slide and enlarge the text/assignments, but I find that to be unnecessary and more work than I want to do. My Math Stations assignment chart is supposed to be down and dirty, quick and easy.

However, I do like to break up the 2-day plan into two separate slides in my PowerPoint so that Day 1 and Day 2 are on separate slides.
I'm sharing how I schedule my math stations rotations. Grab your free editable math rotations station template for upper elementary math stations. Learn how my math stations are differentiated within the schedule of assignments.
To make it easier for students to focus on and find their station assignment, I recommend using a colored rectangle to hide the rotation that you are not currently working on.

You can have a student helper move the “shade” when the rotation is over. I have placed a shade in the slide templates for you where appropriate. You can just move it to the side when you are making your assignments or delete it if you do not want it.

What about that math stations rotation template freebie?



Missed anything in my math stations series? Catch up!

> > > Management Tools for Upper Elementary Math Stations
> > > An Overview of My Upper Elementary Math Stations
> > > Math Station Essentials {Tools for Organization and Management}

Math Station Essentials {Tools for Organization and Management}

I've been sharing background about how I run my math stations and today I wanted to give you my list of tools that I use year after year to manage my math stations and increase my organization and success with them.
Thinking about implementing math station rotations or centers this year? Learn all about management and organizational tools I can't live without for my 4th grade and 5th grade math stations. I even show you how I set up my small groups and math station assignments. {3rd grade and 6th grade teachers, this works for you too!}

In my last post about math stations, I shared with you that I don’t stress over creating a fancy acronym for my math stations. From year to year, I may have categories of activities (meet with the teacher, Algebraic Thinking, Concept Station, Real-World station, task cards, math at the computer, etc), but I don’t try to fit them into an acronym.

For me personally, this just complicates my planning and adds another layer that I have to think about (but that doesn’t necessarily matter to students or make my teaching/their learning experience any better). Don’t shoot me! You are welcome to keep your acronym if it works well for you. I’m just sharing how I keep my stations uncomplicated for me!

While I do not use an acronym, math rotations bulletin board, or have the same stations all the time I do have a number of tools that I think are essential to my math station success! Many of these tools help me stay organized for math in general, but they are also heavily used to keep me organized and happy while running math stations.

My 4 Essentials for Math Stations Success!


Thinking about implementing math station rotations or centers this year? Learn all about management and organizational tools I can't live without for my 4th grade and 5th grade math stations. I even show you how I set up my small groups and math station assignments. {3rd grade and 6th grade teachers, this works for you too!}

Essential #1: Baskets for organization: I have used baskets to organize my math resources and materials for the upcoming week for a few years now. I love them because I don't have to worry about looking at paper stacks--(although there are definitely paper stacks in the baskets)--everything is "organized" and easy to find. If I have math work that I need to hide, I can just throw it in the "upcoming" basket and deal with it later. (#reallife) My favorite baskets (pictured below) are from the Dollar Tree.

I label the baskets with whatever resources and activities I predict I will be making copies of most during the year. Most of my math activities and printed materials can be organized into baskets labeled "Math Upcoming," "Task Cards," "Hands-On Math," and "Homework."

The only other basket that I'd add to this list is an "assessment" basket but I can throw those in the homework basket and easily find them and I also like an organized hanging file folder basket or binders for keeping my differentiated math assessments organized.

Since I use task cards like crazy, plan hands-on activities, and print homework for my students, these three baskets are consistently used. Then, basically anything else I would use for a math lesson or assignment goes in the "Upcoming" basket (I clip all copied sets together with what I will need first on top).

Figuring out what to label your baskets can be a work in progress. You can start with 4-5 labels you think you will use the most then re-assess later in the year and decide if you need something worded differently. For example, if "Journal Prompts" isn't really getting any love, figure out what you are using more often that can go into that basket and change the label.

When I taught 4th and 5th grade math, I labeled my baskets like this to keep the classes separate: 

When I taught 5th grade math for my whole grade level, I labeled one basket with each teacher's name, but kept enough copies for each class in the "Upcoming," "Today," "Algebra," and "Other" baskets. {Ohhhhhh, "other" is a great option for a basket label!}

And because what teacher doesn't LOOOOOOVE looking at pictures of classroom organization, I know you want to see a math station #throwback picture, right? Check it out old-school below :)

Essential #2: Timer: I find that I get so carried away working with students that it helps to set a timer for a minute or two before I want the second math station to start to remind me to switch stations. Nothing stinks more than a second station that doesn’t get enough time because the first station ran over or students took too long to transition. Having a timer running is also helpful because I can periodically remind students of how much time they have left and encourage them to stay on task. (I usually use a kitchen timer, but have also found online timers helpful for showing on the smartboard.)

Essential #3: Math Journals and Pocket Folders: I've always had my students use marble notebooks for "math journals" so these move around with them from station to station and especially during a "meet with the teacher" station.
I've also implemented various forms of folders. I've had students buy the folders with 8 pockets and labeled each one with a station and I've had them use a two pocket folder to hold our papers for "Algebraic Thinking," what they are currently working on, and some scrap paper. Folders are especially helpful for students who finish assignments and often need something else to work on. I can give them a math "project" or extension activity to keep in their folder and work on as they finish their stations. I don't always use folders for math stations, but when I do, they become nice holding spots for ongoing work.

It really helps keep students organized when I designate what each pocket of the folder is for. I either buy them myself and label them, or take folders up at the beginning of the year and add the labels for students (much less of a hassle than having them do it!).
Thinking about implementing math station rotations or centers this year? Learn all about management and organizational tools I can't live without for my 4th grade and 5th grade math stations. I even show you how I set up my small groups and math station assignments. {3rd grade and 6th grade teachers, this works for you too!}

Essential #4: Station Rotation Template in Powerpoint: I use a simple rotation assignment chart in PowerPoint to manage my rotations. I come up with 4 or more assignments and create the groups for each assignment prior to the lesson. I display the rotations on the smartboard for students to see. I go over the expectations for each rotation and the location of the materials (this is fast--at carpet, at back table, at your seat, etc).


Before we begin math stations, I ask students to find their names for each rotation and make sure they understand what they are supposed to do for each activity. (Often, students are continuing work on an activity or set of task cards that they have already begun in a whole-group setting).

Want to grab these station rotation templates that you can use in your classroom this year? Download the free, editable rotation templates that I've made fancy just for you! {I've even included some directions and tips in the PowerPoint file to share more about how I schedule and group students}.

“Required” Classroom Set Up


When incorporating math stations into my classroom routine, a large rug and extra tables (like a long rectangular one or a kidney table)  for work spaces are a must. It is really important to me to have different kinds of spaces in my classroom for students to work.

If you have a number of “break-out tables” or your students use tables instead of desks, you could get by without a rug. In my last {very small} classroom, I had a rug, a long rectangular table, and I brought my card table to school and squeezed it into the back of the classroom to have an extra space. One year, I figured out how to squeeze two large rugs into my classroom—it was glorious!
Now, I would assume that a rug and table spaces are a given in an upper elementary classroom, but I’ve seen classrooms that do not have these work spaces and I truly think it makes implementing stations and managing student behavior more challenging when you do not have spaces for kids to spread out.

While you can totally run stations with students working on different assignments at their desks, one of the reasons students love stations is that they get to move around. Stations should feel different from "desk work." Stations are meant to shake up whole-group instruction and I’m just not sure you get the same engagement and effect if students have to complete all of their stations at their desk. (Although, I do usually incorporate an “At my Seat” assignment).

Don't forget to grab your free, editable math stations rotation template! You get three different versions to work with and directions for how to use.


Also > > > sneak peak--after writing this post, I realized that a full blog post about how I assign math stations and create my rotations each week would be helpful. I plan to post that for you next!

If you are implementing math stations, what are your "must-haves" for staying organized and keeping your routine running smoothly?

Did you miss anything in my math stations series? Click to read them now! 

→ My Take On Upper-Elementary Math Stations...and why I LOVE them!
→ Rules for Upper Elementary Math Stations...that you can break!
→ How I Schedule Student Groups for my Math Station Rotations
→ Activities I LOVE using for Math Stations

5 Rules for Math Stations...that you can break!

Are you a little giddy (and overwhelmed) as you think about implementing math stations this year? Are you trying to figure out your activities for BUILD stations or pinning down what your MATH acronym stands for? Worried about teaching routines and procedures for math stations or how you will keep up with all of the groups and assignments? Stressing over what your math bulletin board will look like?
Trying to implement math stations or guided math centers into your upper elementary math routine this year? Well, I've got 5 rules that you can plan to BREAK as you set up your routines, schedule, and teaching plans. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students will love this approach to math stations, and teachers will feel RELIEVED to break the rules that may have been ingrained in your mind about "how math stations" must be done. Check out these "new" ideas for upper elementary math stations and make your life easy as pie!

Well, let me stop you there!

Using stations, centers, or guided math in an upper elementary classroom doesn’t have to be complicated or a management nightmare. You don’t have to plan or search for an outrageous number of activities or spend hours laminating and cutting. And you don’t have to have figured out these uniform categories of activities that you use all year.

I have implemented some form of math stations with my 4th grade and 5th grade students since my 4th year of teaching, and let me tell you, it made a tremendous difference in my ability to differentiate for and engage my students. {My last post was an overview of my take on upper-elementary math stations--head back there first if you missed it!}

I want to share with you some “rules” for upper elementary math stations that you may have somehow got the impressions that you must follow. I will admit, I can be a bad influence, but I encourage you to break these so called rules if they aren't working out for you and your students.

Let’s be Math Station Rule Breakers together!


Rule # 1: Figure out a Fancy Acronym to Organize Your Stations/Rotations

I’ve never used a fancy acronym for my math stations. I’ve tried. I’ve obsessed over it. I’ve come up with activities I want my students to complete, and I’ve tried to force them into this perfect acronym. What I’ve found is that I’m much happier with my math stations without over-structuring them in this way.

We can still have common routines, procedures, and activities that occur regularly enough that students “understand the drill,” but I don’t have to force my math stations into specific math categories. To me, this over-complicates the planning process and sometimes forces teachers to find “filler” activities just to fit a category.

So, the first “rule” of math stations that I break that you can also break is that you don’t need some fancy acronym. You can simply have ideas for a variety of activities or just create stations as you find resources you love for your unit.

Ahhh, isn’t this freeing?!?

Rule #2: Plan for and Have Math Stations Every Day

You may think that the only way you can get started with math stations is to get them going every day. 4-6 different activities or groups each day of the week sounds like a lot of planning and laminating fun to me (not!). Before you go all in like this, ask yourself why you are committed to have stations every day and consider the benefits of only having stations a few days a week.

The biggest secret to my enjoyment and management of math stations (IE—keeping my sanity)—is that I do not run math stations every day. Just because I (you) see value in this teaching structure doesn’t mean I (we) have to be married to it every day or even every week.

Whole-group instruction and whole–group learning activities also have value. Engaging students in problem solving, inquiry, and math talk where everyone works together and learns from one another also has value!

Often when I launch a new unit, we do a lot of whole group activities, discussions, group, and partner activities. I work hard to get students to elicit prior knowledge about our new math topics (tap into what they learned the year before) and I collect information about the strengths and weaknesses I see. I keep a notebook handy and I jot down their misconceptions and insights word for word so that I can use them later in lessons and “bell ringers.” Then, I’ve got more information to help me proceed with planning my math stations. We may spend the first week or two of a unit in whole group discussions, inquiry, and partner activities.

Rule #3: I must tie myself down to a small group table and teach my students never to interrupt my small group.

Running math stations doesn’t have to mean that you are always tied down to a table teaching a guided group. There are lots of ways that you can meet students’ needs and often for 4th and 5th graders, a new lesson is not needed every single day. (Repeating yourself over and over for 3-4 small group lessons is also not a very efficient use of your time. If you find yourself doing this, ask why and if it is effective.) What many of our upper elementary students often need is PRACTICE, new challenges that they have to grapple with, and consistent feedback throughout the learning process.

Providing consistent feedback and support is easier when I am not tied down to a kidney table.

Re-teaching can be done one on one and as needed while you are rotating the room and checking students' work. This does not mean that I never plan for a “with Mrs. Roose” station, but I don’t require this of myself for every rotation plan that I make.

Rule #4: Every station and activity must be differentiated.

Now, I have to give you permission to break this rule because I know you know that I am a passionate differentiator. I am a growth mindset enthusiast and a huge advocate of challenging our gifted students while meeting the needs of our struggling students.

But, let’s keep it real. Your students will be a-ok if all of your stations are not differentiated all the time. I have numerous reasons for running math stations—differentiation is a big one, but it is not the only one.

One big reason to launch math stations (and hold them twice a week) is to break up the monotony of a regular math class. Now, I know if you are reading this, you are not aiming to be a boring math teacher, but it happens to the best of us. Math stations force you to be a little more creative and give students more time to work and less time playing "sit and get."

In addition, differentiation happens through more than the resources we assign. You differentiate for your students based on the level of support you give them—are they working alone, working by your side, do you grab a whiteboard and re-teach something to them, do you partner them up with another student so that they have to explain their thinking?

When I run stations but have not assigned different work to different students, it is often because I want everyone to be able to work at their own pace. (A quality of an ideal math class that is hard to achieve when using a whole-group structure). I also want to use math stations to break up the rut that we can get in with “regular math class” and to motivate my students to push themselves and work hard.

I’ve found that breaking my math block into 2 parts (usually 20-25 minutes each) helps keep students from getting bored from the same activity. Math stations allow me to incorporate seat work and independent practice AND games, partner activities, and mini-projects within one class structure. My students are often “in the zone” in their math stations and then eagerly awaiting their opportunity to get to work on something new. This doesn’t mean that I have differentiated their work all of the time.

> > > Lastly, I WANT TO BUST THE BIGGEST MYTH THAT YOU MAY BE BELIEVING ABOUT MATH STATIONS right.now.my.friend.

YOU, yes YOU, (repeat after me) DO NOT have to have it all figured out before your school year begins. 

Seriously! Your math stations can evolve and progress as the year goes on. Your math station experience can be organic. You can keep it loose and fluid (like I suggest) and you can choose to add new station ideas every time you start a new unit, or a new quarter, or a new week if you get a sudden (awesome) burst of teacher energy.

Trying to implement math stations or guided math centers into your upper elementary math routine this year? Well, I've got 5 rules that you can plan to BREAK as you set up your routines, schedule, and teaching plans. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students will love this approach to math stations, and teachers will feel RELIEVED to break the rules that may have been ingrained in your mind about "how math stations" must be done. Check out these "new" ideas for upper elementary math stations and make your life easy as pie!But, you really don't have to know every little thing you and your students are going to do before the year starts. Just plan that you are going to have math stations 2 days a week with 4 different stations. Sometimes those station assignments will have students finishing work that was started during a whole group lesson or independent work time.

It's okay for a set of math task cards that you launched in whole group to show up the following day as a math station. It's okay for you to pull out a game that students played in the past to help them review previously learned content. (Actually, these two math station ideas are my preference!)

Then, you can have them experience something new in a small group with you or a station that you monitor and support heavily during station time.

It’s never too late in the year to add stations into your math instruction, but you don't have to follow a set of arbitrary "rules" that you've heard rumors of. 

You have my permission to implement math stations a few days a week, keep yourself available to help all of your groups rather than tying yourself down to a small group all the time, and to use assignments that you had students start with in a whole-group lesson.

Oh, and those bulletin boards and beautiful {fancy} math station acronyms---I'll show you how to get around those in my next blog post!

Management Tools for Upper Elementary Math Stations
An Overview of My Upper Elementary Math Stations

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