I first started teaching self-contained third grade seven years ago. After spending close to 10 years in and out of classrooms, working with intervention students, and seeing some amazing teaching and learning, I knew I wanted to do math centers in my room and I knew how my math block ‘should’ look. I wanted time to meet with small groups of students, and I wanted students to have time working independently and so I implemented what I thought was Guided Math. And I hated it in action in my classroom. My math block is typically in the afternoon because I do reading and writing in the morning as long as my schedule allows. The kids are a bit more tired and energetic (sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s reality- amiright) in the afternoon. Maybe this is part of the reason my guided math centers didn’t work for me. Maybe it’s because I’m less patient in the afternoon. Maybe it’s my fault in planning and/or execution. Either way, for a year and a half I tried various different models and groupings trying to find what worked for me with guided math, and, I couldn’t. I continued experimenting.
I tried 3 centers each day for about 45 minutes and the students would rotate to the other 3 the next day. I even blogged about how I used Powerpoint to manage my centers rotations.
While not all of the math centers changed each day, some of them did, and it was a lot of planning and effort. This was my favorite set up, but something just felt “off” to me. I could see students in action every other day, but I struggled with what I had students do independently on the day they weren’t with me. I often had students do their independent practice while I was nearby so I could keep an eye on what they were doing. It was difficult spending 45 minutes of my block (half of it essentially) all in centers. I just didn’t feel like what I had students doing during that time was meaningful enough, and warranted half of the math block.
I also tried just doing 1 group each day and students rotating through during the week, but I didn’t feel like it was enough time for me to see my students working on their math skills. It wasn’t giving me enough time to work with my below level students who need more support. I tried reading every blog post I could find on Guided Math and couldn’t quite wrap my head around exactly what it should look like, and how it was different from what I was already trying to do in my room. I also couldn’t quite go with the idea that I was teaching everything in small group every day without a lot of whole class instruction.
But then I found what did work for me in my math block. I split my students in half and taught my lessons twice. My kids were engaged and I was able to differentiate for them in smaller groups to meet their needs.
My Math Block
Essentially, after our daily, introductory activities, I split the class in half and teach the lesson to both of them. However, I teach the lesson differently with both groups based on the level of scaffolding they needed. Here’s a look at how our typical 90-minute math block is scheduled in this format.
Word Problem of the Day
The beginning of our math block is *always* a story problem of the day. My first year in the classroom I quickly realized that my teaching of problem solving for one day at the end of the unit, or as a unit itself, just was not enough practice for my kids. And my curriculum didn’t give students enough practice, and did not spiral through the standards in word problems. I began implementing a ” Word Problem of the Day” format and have seen the difference that it makes with my kids when they have daily exposure to word problems that spiral through the grade level standards. We now implement it school wide and I’ve done the same structure in 1st grade and 2nd grade as I had originally done in 3rd.
Students work through the problem independently using problem solving strategies that I teach at the beginning of the year. Every now and then, and to help keep students engaged, I have students work in partners, or explain their work in partners. After students complete the problem independently or in partners, we go over it as a class. I find the power with our Word Problem of the Day being in students’ independent practice and oral explanations of their work. Students love displaying the steps they used to solve, or explaining to me what steps I should take to solve step-by-step. This is great practice for state tests where students need to explain the steps they took to get to a solution. It also gives students an opportunities to see other strategies in action. I also, at times, have students identify where their mistake or misconception was to help fix the misconception.
At the beginning of the year, this takes much longer than 15 minutes, and there are days throughout the year that it takes a few minutes longer, for sure, with more complex multi-step problems. But, I’ve learned that giving students daily practice with various levels of rigor, and spiraling through the standards, is key for my students to feel not only comfortable on their state assessments, but also confident that they can read a problem and develop a plan of attack to solve it. Daily problem solving practice gives my students the confidence they need to work through any problem they face, both in our regular curriculum and on our assessments. We use my Word Problem of the Day bundle during this time as they’re rigorous, focus beyond just correct answers and into problem solving strategies, and keep students’ fresh on all of the standards through an ongoing build and spiral. You can click on any of the images below to take a closer look at those word problems bundles.
Number of the Day
My Number of the Day routine is the single most important 10 minutes of my math block! I began a number of the day routine using an outside resource with students reviewing the Number and Operations standards. We also did Number Talks based on the book.
I also developed my own Number of the Day printables (and digital versions) that can be used with any number you want to practice. Using these for a few minutes each day allowed me to continue to review place value and number sense standards. There are 6 different versions that review a variety of place value skills, along with some number sense building mental math questions. You can download them by signing up for my Number Sense Newsletter in my Building Number Sense blog post.
When I moved from 3rd grade to 1st grade I changed the way I do Number of the Day to an interactive whole group time and it was the best change I’ve ever made. I continued it in 2nd grade, and have continued it in 3rd grade. The number sense and mental math kids have shown due to this routine have forever changed my view on number sense and have made me believe that those 10 minutes is the most powerful part of our day. I use my printables when I’m out of class, or I want to give my students some independent practice. To see more about my Number of the Day routine the last two years, you can watch the video below.
Math Small Groups Structure
The change in my math block structure is really in the function of the small groups. I split my class into two groups: one with the average and above average students (the kids that “get it” after they see it and don’t need as much support, or the ones who already have a ton of background knowledge); the second group is the below average and low students (with a few average students that need a bit more repeated practice to get something). Depending on my number of students at the time, the groups range from about 9-12 students. While this is higher than my group numbers when I taught in centers, I still can group the kids into smaller groups for on the fly reteaching. I can quickly group kids that need a bit more reinforcement or need a new walkthrough. It also gives ranges of abilities in each group. Because the groups are larger, they’re more heterogeneous than when I was working with smaller groups. But, the most important part about it for me, is that my low students aren’t able to hide behind my strong math students who are quick to respond.
I teach the two groups slightly differently. For the groups, students bring their dry erase boards and markers or their math textbooks and come and join me on the floor. This allows me to get down and see what each of them are doing throughout each step. When I would do this whole class, it was so much harder to keep tabs on everyone and circulate. This allows me to jump right in, quickly put a couple kids together to reteach, or to show something to the entire group. Students also often jump in and assist each other when someone isn’t getting it. Because we’re all sitting close together and have fewer students to wait on to finish the students stay engaged with what we’re doing. They also know that if they work hard with me, I’ll generally give them a few minutes to have free draw on their boards before they put them back. 2 minutes of drawing time does wonders! 🙂
The big differences between the way I teach my two math groups is the “We do” part of our lesson. With my higher group, after a very quick two problem or so review of yesterday’s lesson, I quickly explain the new lesson and we practice a couple together. The bulk of our time is students practicing the skill on their own with me checking. I do this one or two problems at a time so I can clear up misconceptions right away. After the group has demonstrated mastery we often are able to take the skill to the next level: to quickly apply the next step in the standard, or even sometimes doing the next grade level’s standard for the skill. We often continue this practice as “we do” as well, but it sometimes is done independently depending on how the students are doing. Previously, I’d never been able to really push my strong students in math to apply their learning beyond our current standards, or with really complex problems.
This has meant that by mid-week, group 1 has generally finished the week’s skills and are ready to apply the standard to problems with more complexity. When I plan, I plan out the week for group 2, and look to see where I might be able to take group 1. We often are able to reach that next level. With group 2, we spend most of the time working on the problems together. This is the group that needs additional practice, that often has previous misconceptions that need to be cleared up, and needs more practice to truly master it. We discuss the steps together and do problems step by step before I “turn them loose” to try on their own. Even when they do try it on their own, I’m still closely monitoring to see who is getting it and who is not. Often, even within just that few minutes, I do a quick reteaching with a small group, or the whole of the group to make sure students understand. This set up is the first time I’ve been able to feel like I can push my high students and also reach my low students who need a lot of “cleaning up”. It’s allowed me to really differentiate and meet their needs. I now follow my district curriculum much more specifically than I did previously. However, my group functions essentially the same, with students bringing a math book and pencil rather than dry erase boards down to group. We work through the curriculum together, just at different paces and different levels of scaffolding.
When I’m working with one of the groups, the other group is on Technology. We have student computers and a small group set of ” Kindle Fires I got through a grant so students are further split in half and go to one of these. I want students to stay engaged and really be furthering their knowledge so I tailor this time to work on students’ independent levels or practice our specific standard. Students are usually on iReady (our district curriculum), Freckle or Moby Max, but occasionally I’ll throw in something different to keep their excitement up. These websites allow you to assign specific skills/standards and also allow students to practice on their individual levels. With Freckle, I love that I can have students work within the domain that we’re practicing but working at THEIR level. Students practice a specific standard from time to time, but often they’d work where they need to work, and with my low group it’s been great to know that they’re practicing those skills that need to be cleaned up. To see more about Freckle (Front Row), click the image below to head to that post.
Math Fact Fluency
I often use our Rocket Math program during this time but we also play fact games as well. My students absolute favorite way is to play 5 in a Row. They beg to play each day, and it’s my kids’ favorite part of our learning. Click the image below to head to my blog post to see more about the game and how it’s played. You can also check out all of my 5 in a Row items in my TpT store.
Math Spiral Review
I do a daily spiral math review every morning as part of our morning work outside of our math block. It gives students a chance to work through all of the standards several times a year and gives students practice on various standards each day. We do one set of the previous year (40 pages so that makes it through about the first quarter of the year) and then do three sets of the current year throughout the year. I have math spiral review sets for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades. You can click any of the images below to head to my TpT store to check them out. There are yearlong bundles for 2nd and 3rd grades, and each set is sold separately in 40 page sets. The 1st grade version includes two sets for use in spiraling the 1st grade math standards during the second half of the year.
I hope you’ve enjoyed taking a walk through our math block. For other math posts you can click the images and links below.