Bring peace to your day with these math center ideas for upper elementary.
Take a moment to imagine the perfect moment in your math class.
Live in that moment. Let your mind work its way around your classroom and observe your students.
First, you see yourself. You are working with a small group of kids. You acknowledge how good you are looking today, and consider wearing those earrings more often because you never realized how they shimmer under the fluorescent lighting of your room.
After you are done giving yourself compliments, you notice the students sitting with you. They are watching you intently, nodding, and actively listening, but the group is small. Where are the other students?
Your mind begins to move about the rest of the room. And that’s when you notice the other students sprinkled throughout.
A group of four students is sitting in the corner using whiteboards to work through math problems together.
You are distracted then by a shout and some laughter behind you. You turn to see a group of students sharing a computer, each student holding a sheet of paper with some numbers on them. One of the students is wearing a smug look. She was the one who shouted. She must have gotten the answer right.
You start to notice other students around the room. Some are sitting by themselves working on tablets while others are sitting at desks with worksheets in front of them.
Your class associate sits with a student working through a puzzle on a tablet, and a group of boys in the corner are each holding playing cards in their hands. Of course one is lying on his back, and one is standing up, but they are all looking at their cards and then watching as one boy lays a card on the discard stack. Despite their sprawled forms, they all lean in to read what it says.
All of the students are working and playing intently. They are lost in their activities, and you are smiling warmly to the small group around you, who are now working on worksheets as you point at their sheets and talk quietly to them. You give the little girl with the short hair a high five and her smile doesn’t leave her face for the rest of the period. You watch yourself glance up and look around the room. You are calm and at peace in this moment.
It’s not a dream!!!
This classroom is not a dream. This classroom has procedures and structure and is built on making sure all students have appropriate tasks and activities to help them practice skills on their own, so their teacher can work on skills with students in small groups.
Most elementary teachers use centers as a way to keep students busy while they work with other students, but we don’t want to just keep students busy. We want to keep them fully engaged and if possible, improving on their skills.
As you consider ways you can make this ‘perfect’ math class a reality, consider the importance of choosing good center activities that practice specific skills students need to be working on.
Different learners = Different learning styles
Students don’t all learn the same way, so having a variety of tasks that appeal to different types of learners is also important. When we create center tasks, we are trying to find ways for students to work independently and in groups. Sometimes the activities call on them to work collaboratively to solve a problem, and sometimes they are competing with each other. Some of the problems are shown in numbers, and some of them require students to read through problems. Others allow students to manipulate images and items.
Do a quick audit of your typical math class. What centers do you find yourself using over and over? How do you decide what centers you will use every day? Do you consider the different learning styles of the students? Do you provide different levels of difficulty in the centers? Do students have the ability to work collaboratively and by themselves?
What holes do you need to fill? Maybe we can help!
6 Center Activities to use in your Upper Elementary Math Class
Task cards can be used with any gameboard or with whiteboards and dry erase markers. Any task card set can be turned into a game with the use of a gameboard. Check out our previous posts to gain access to a free digital gameboard and some suggestions on how to use it!
Another important component of centers is to practice the day’s lesson. During independent practice, students work on their own to develop the day’s skills. Consider having multiple levels of practice available. Some students will move through the initial practice quickly, so include some expansion activities for these early finishers (or set up an additional center just for them!)
Spiraling previously taught standards is important for helping students deeply internalize skills. Check out this post about the importance of spiraling standards. Our UKNOW games allow students to practice previously learned material in a fun, gamified environment.
Check out some of these popular UKNOW sets!
Those competitive students will like the interactive game show activities. Using whiteboards and dry erase markers, so every student can have a chance to answer the questions will keep all students actively involved in this competitive atmosphere.
Optional Win-Win-Win Variation: If you are willing to try something really interesting, challenge different groups (each with 3-4 students) to see who can finish the game with the highest overall group score. All students answer all the questions, and get points for every question they answer correctly, but they have to coach each other through tough skills and concepts pausing to talk through how they found the answers in an effort to help their group members be as successful as possible.
Wondering what kind of game shows we have for math centers? Click here to see them all!
If you have access to computers or tablets, set up some digital games and activities for students to complete in pairs or independently. Some students will need this break from the group activities. We wrote a post that may give you some good ideas for this center called 8 Ways to Practice Math Facts.
Digital puzzles scaffold skills for students and our digital puzzles have several different puzzles to choose from for each topic. If you are looking for a more in-depth look into how these digital puzzles work and how you can use them, check out this post: Use Digital Puzzles for Math Review.
Can these digital puzzles really work in your classroom with your technology? Yes! They can! But don’t take our word for it. Try them yourself. Download this set of Math Fact Puzzles totally free and consider ways you can use them during your center time!
The Fun in 5th Grade team takes center activities really seriously, and we pride ourselves on creating fun, engaging activities that practice a variety of skills at several different levels. Take a look at some, and let us know how you pair them to get the most effective arrangement in your class! Tell us about your center’s successes in the comments below!