Launching Math Workshop in Upper Elementary

Getting to Know Your Class

I’m getting excited about going back in-person for the first time since March of 2020 and reflecting on the fall of 2019. Every year, our first unit in math is Characteristics of Numbers and that will be our first unit in August of 2021. In 2019, I launched my math workshop by establishing norms and setting expectations, of course, and I will do the same in 2021. We played lots of math games. One of my favorites is “figure me out”. Figure Me Out is a game that you have probably seen before. I originally got the idea from my friend, Rachel, over at Fifth is My Jam. The teacher shares a Google or PowerPoint slide that features several numbers or word problems that represent the teacher. Students try to guess how the numbers are significant to the teacher. Then, students create their own “figure me out” slides or pictures and share with peers.

If you’re looking for more ice breakers and games, here is a link to TONS of free resources on Teachers Pay Teachers for Back-to-School math games for upper elementary students.

Establishing Your Norms

My county uses a curriculum called M3 (M Cubed) which stands for Mentoring Mathematical Minds for mathematically talented students. I mention this for credit purposes; not as a sales pitch of any kind. Anyway, the rules for engagement in the M3 curriculum are framed as Rights and Obligations and are adapted from Classroom Discussions: Using Math Talk to Help Students Learn, Grades K–6. The focus of the rules is on:

  • Rights: listening attentively, asking questions, treating each other with respect, and discussing ideas.
  • Obligations: speaking audibly, listening for understanding, and expressing agreement or disagreement and supporting those positions with evidence.

I use these rights and obligations to facilitate discussion about rules for math workshop with my class. In M3, there is also an emphasis on thinking like a mathematician adapted from Using the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics with Gifted and Advanced Learners. When students think like mathematicians, they use logic, appropriate tools, ways to share their thinking (e.g. graphs, drawings, tables, equations, etc.), background knowledge, known strategies, and a trial and error approach. Here is a link to great FREEBIE created by Teacher Thrive on Teachers Pay Teachers for thinking like a mathematician.

Organizing Your Workshop

Now for the FUN part! As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am a workshop teacher through and through (for three decades, now). The happiest sound in the world is the buzz of students engaged in independent, partner, and small group work. The only time you will see my students sitting quietly at their tables during math is when they’re taking a test! That said, I follow the tried-and-true time frame of:

  • Mini Lesson: 10 minutes (give or take)
  • Work time and Reflection: 40 – 45 minutes
  • Sharing: 5 – 10 minutes

During the mini lesson, I share the objective(s), model, and often have a student model for the class, as well. Then, I send students on their way to work and I work with small groups. Confession, I have never had a ton of success with timed rotations in any subject area, so I keep movement from independent/partner work to small group work flexible. If you’re looking for a beautiful, interactive display for a M.A.T.H. station rotation, check out my friend Rachel’s here.

When we begin independent work time, my students use materials from M3 but they use materials I have created, as well. Variety is important to keep student engagement high, so I make sure that they have games, puzzles, mazes, task cards, and other materials in both printable and digital formats. For example, during our first unit, Characteristics of Numbers, we cover place value (including decimals to the thousandths place), rounding natural numbers and decimals, even, odd, prime, and composite numbers, and factors and multiples, so here are some games and activities I provide for my students for independent exploration and practice:

To keep students accountable during work time, I have a “have to” or “must do” and lots of “may do”s. The reflection at the end of the workshop also keeps them accountable.

Finally, at the end of the workshop, I have a few students share their work and we look back at the rights and obligations to keep everyone focused to the work and not the person who completed the work. Students are free to ask clarifying questions and provide feedback.

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