Today I’m sharing a list of simple but effective changes I made in my classroom to make my math program more successful. Hopefully they will help you, too!
Does this sound familiar to you?
I’d finish a math lesson, and then before students went off to work, I’d ask if there were any questions. All the little heads would shake no, and everyone seemed happy and confident skipping off to their desks.
Soon enough, those early finishers would start hovering around, wanting me to check their work and wondering what they should do next. I’d think: How did they finish so quickly? Did I underestimate the time it would take to complete this work?
No, I didn’t. When I DO look at their work, I realize that there are a lot of little errors, and they’ve rushed through it, leaving ME with a bunch of correcting and scrambling for early finisher work.
That’s when I realized I’ve spent all this time creating, teaching, and marking something that took them 10 minutes and is filled with careless answers.
How did this become okay!? It’s NOT okay!
The 5-Step Solution
The students themselves should be more involved in:
*correcting their own work
*thinking about their work
*being engaged in discussions about their work
Students should be self-checking, peer checking, and doing their best possible work BEFORE handing it to me.
With this in mind, I started making answer sheets available to them. This did help a bit, but it didn’t actually offer a way to understand why they made mistakes or help them form habits of self-checking before marking.
They had no way to understand why they had the wrong answers, or engage in discussions about multiple strategies with peers.
I decided my math block needed a complete overhaul.
Step 1 – Self-Checking Page Format
My first step was to reformat my math pages to integrate the answers into the page itself.
This made the pages self-checking because although I wrote the answers on the bottom of the page, but didn’t identify which answers belonged to which question. They had to search for it. However, if their answer was not in the list, they’d better check their answer again. This alone saved a ton of my marking time.
My students were intrigued! “You mean the teacher is giving us ALL the answers right there on the page?!” they asked. This seemed just too good to be true!
Yes, the answers are right there – you just have to find them.
New Page Designs
The success of this led to some variations in how I designed math pages:
*Find My Partner Format: Color the question and answer the same color. There should not be any circles without a partner by the end.
*Bubble Answers Format: The answers are in the “bubbles” at the bottom of each page. Students found and colored each of their answers as they went along. This gave students much more skill at problem solving and self-correcting when they didn’t see their answer in a bubble! Students also have a friend check their work before handing it in, so there’s lots of great peer-discussion going on.
*Cut and Paste Sorting Format where each answer has to fit within a category, so they are self-checking in that way.
*Border Answers Format: The answers are around the edges of the page to make a colorful border once we’re done. In the picture below, students have to simply color their question and answer with the same color.
The peer-checking component was a real game-changer and so popular. Students found a friend who was also finished to check over their work. Students take this very seriously because they are marking work and signing their name, and essentially that means they are PRACTICALLY the teacher (for that few moments, anyway!)
Step 2 – Differentiation
I teach a multi-age class, so the next step was to find a way to engage everyone.
I am always aware that my younger students can be easily overwhelmed by too much information on the page. At the same time, my older students need a solid challenge to keep them engaged.
The solution was to make three different version of each task; this made everyone happy and I only had to explain one task. Moreover, I used this same format for many different math skills through the year so I didn’t have to re-create the page – just the content!
Step 3 – Reference Posters
We generally make anchor charts when introducing new concepts. We add to them and refer to them through the entire few weeks of study. They are NOT pretty, and can get a bit messy, but they are authentic and created together.
Rather than lose all of that learning, I started turning our anchor charts into quick reference posters. These posters are added to our math wall, and we refer back to them throughout the entire year.
Further, I turned our math reference posters wall into a math center.
Students use a pointer and take turns being the “teacher”. They go through each poster and explain to their “students” what the chart is about. So simple, yet, students love it, and what an amazing review of all math concepts! It keeps concepts fresh even months later.
I would highly recommend trying this!
You can make your own, and if you’d like to see examples of the results you can also download all of my addition and subtraction strategy posters. They are a FREE download at the end of this post.
Step 4 – Hands-On Centers & Games
The majority of our math time is spent exploring concepts with hands-on math centers.
Some have been purchased by our school, but I’ve also created my own printable centers for all math topics.
These are simple tasks involving sorting and matching – easy to print out and store in an envelope. I leave these out all year so students can choose their favorites. We have over 80 different printable centers now!
My students also love board games, so I created some basic board games to practice core skills that could be played independently as a review.
Step 5 – Organization
With so many resources, there must be a good system of organization involved.
The materials purchased by my school that are hands-on are stored in math bins and available as math center choices. I store my printable centers and game boards in storage bins with several drawers so students can access them easily.
When storing the differentiated printable workbooks, I prefer to store all of them in a large math binder.
Each unit is separated by a labeled tab. Within each section I can quickly locate differentiated versions of each page. I quickly take out the pages needed for each unit, and put them back under the correct tab for next year.
It keeps us organized and efficient!
Putting It Into Action!
I hope these ideas inspire you with new ideas for your math materials!
If you make your own worksheets, feel free to try one of the self-checking ideas.
If not, you can download my entire year of workbooks and centers – all ten units for the grade one year.
I’ve packaged them up separately – centers in one pack, and workbook printables in another pack – in case your school already has a math curriculum and you only wish to try the centers.
Click to see the printable centers alone (925 pages).
Click to see the workbook pages alone.
UPDATE: I’ve had so many requests to package each math unit alone, containing both the workbooks and the centers for each of the ten units. To clarify, you can purchase just the math sense unit, and it will contain both the printable workbooks and the printable centers together.
You can see them all by clicking HERE. Each set has a preview so you can see the pages inside.
The individual math topics are:
Addition to 10
Subtraction to 10
Equations to 20
Double Digit Addition and Subtraction
If you’d like to see some of the reference posters in the binder, you can download these ones for free!
You may also find our blank Number of the Day template useful in your classroom! We use it for a daily warm up, a quick math center with differentiated numbers, and even as homework to do with parents.
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