Guest Post: Math Workshops with Alex O’Connor

Math Workshops in the Sixth Grade

I’m excited to introduce Alex O’Connor from Math in the Middle. Today he’s sharing how he’s using math workshops in his sixth grade classroom.

Last year, in the middle of my third year teaching 6th grade math, I was approached by my middle school’s instructional coach about a new (to me at the time!) model of teaching called math workshop. The general idea was that students would be placed in small groups that would rotate through different stations, or centers, throughout the class period.

I’m not going to lie, I was pretty skeptical at first. It was a little overwhelming to think about completely overhauling the structure of my everyday classroom routines, and in the middle of the school year none the less! Pair that with the fact that I coach high school baseball in the spring, and I was envisioning what would have been close to zero free time dwindling into the negative numbers! Ultimately I decided to give it a try, and am I glad that I did. I truly believe it has benefited all of my students.

Math workshop can be set up in a lot of ways, depending on what works for that teacher and their students. So let me start by telling you about what I have been doing in my classroom. This year, because I have smaller class sizes of around 22 students, each of my classes are divided into four groups of 5 to 6 students. Last year I had larger class sizes, so I had them rotate through five centers. In general, I create groups based on the level of the students. I have thought about mixing the groups up, but I really like how I am able to differentiate instruction when the groups are based on how well the students are understanding the material. The four centers include a center at the front table with me, a homework center, a technology/hands-on center, and a problem solving center. I teach four classes that are 60 minutes each, so after accounting for a 10 minute warm-up problem, a very brief introduction to the lesson and a wrap-up at the end of class, I have about 10-12 minutes for each center. Below is a chart I made to keep track of groups and stations. I also have a document posted that shows what color group each student is in. So you might be asking yourself, what do each of these centers include?

Math Workshop Board

Teacher Center: This is BY FAR the most important center for students and really the number one reason why I decided to switch to a math workshop structure. It benefits the struggling and advanced students in so many ways, not to mention all of the students in between! For my struggling students, I am able to work essentially one-on-one, in their small group, to see what they aren’t understanding. With these students, I start with basic problems, which I have ready ahead of time, and work up from there. For my advanced students, I have spent a lot of time creating enrichment problems for various topics. I sometimes have these higher groups do one regular problem, just to make sure they’ve got it, and then they begin on the enrichment questions for the day. Here is a link to the enrichment questions I use! I laminate and cut out six copies to have ready, so each student has their own. Originally I had students working in their notebooks at this station, but I recently switched to white boards…and am I glad I did! Just be sure you order enough dry-erase markers…I learned the hard way this year and am already running out!

Collage of Math Centers

Homework Center: I always have students head to this center directly after they have met with me at the teacher center. This is their chance to practice what we have just learned at the previous station. We use a textbook series for our math curriculum, so my assignments are usually 10-15 problems from the lesson we covered that day. The issue that arises with this center is that you will have one group that needs to start their day at homework, without having gone to the teacher center. I have my advanced group always start here, since they can usually do the homework with little introduction. Then by the time they get to my station at the end, they have practiced on the homework and are ready for the enrichment problems!

Tech/Hands-on Center: This center by far is the most loosely defined (and sometimes the hardest to plan for!). Our school IMC has iPads available to check out, so usually on Thursdays and Fridays I have students play math apps (from a list I have pre-selected!) on six of the iPads that I have checked out. Free Fraction Multiplication Answer SheetOn days without the iPads it varies greatly. A lot of times, at this center, I will incorporate math games that either review a past concept or relate to what we have recently learned. Other times I will create a more hand-on activity for them to complete. For example, when multiplying fractions, I had students use fraction dice and cards to create their own problems. They wrote their work on the answer sheet (FREE!) found here.

Problems of the MonthProblems-Solving Center: This center can also fluctuate a bit. I usually have students working on these awesome (and once again free!) Problems of the Month, which are from the Inside Mathematics website. These problems are progressively more challenging applications of recently learned concepts and skills. I print and laminate six copies of one of these problems to have ready to go at that center. Students have about a week to work on each problem. The great part is that there are different levels, from easy to difficult, so students can work at their own pace.

Some common questions arise about starting math workshop, so I will try my best to answer a few. One of the most common is how and if students stay on task at all the different rotations. This was my biggest concern going into math workshop. After using math workshop for about a year now, I’ve found that if anything it has been easier for kids to stay on task. By moving around and changing activities every 10-15 minutes, it helps them get a quick movement break and refocus on a new activity. Sure, there will always be behavior issues at times, but these behavior issues probably would have occurred if students were being asked to sit through a “normal” class and work time. Setting up routines at the beginning is very important and I have already done a better job this year compared to last year. I’m sure, like everything in teaching, I will find a way to make it that much better next year. I also use a behavior system where the class starts with four letters, P-U-M-A. If I need to take away all four letters for not following expectations, then we lose math workshop for the next day. This is pretty good motivation for them, especially when we are planning to use iPads the next day!

Another question that comes up is the amount of preparation. To be honest, it is quite a bit of preparation up front. Having a bank of math games and some form of technology for the technology/hands-on center has been important for me. I do spend a lot of outside the classroom time getting things ready and creating activities, but it hasn’t been completely overwhelming. I have been using math workshop for less than a year and I am already starting to notice less preparation because of materials I have ready to go!

If you plan to start a math workshop structure in your class, my advice would be to find what works for you! I know some teachers who don’t have a schedule that allows every group to go to every center each day, so they have them go to one or two centers per day. As far as I am concerned there isn’t one right way to use math workshop. I would love to hear any ideas or answer any questions that you have in the comment section below!

Follow Alex at TPT, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and his new blog

It is Done!

3rd Grade Interactive Notebook- Relationships between Multiplication and Division

I might just be singing from the mountain tops right now because this unit for third grade is DONE! I have been SO busy lately and feel horrible that it is done 36 hours past when I had set my deadline but yes my friends… it is SO DONE! Well, except for the photos of all the samples that I haven’t had a chance to make.

Speaking of samples, I am still working on the 5th Grade Unit 1 and I hope that you understand how important getting the content out to you is for me. I answer a ton of questions on a regular basis on when samples are coming but I also answer those on when content is coming (there are dates in the bundle posts peeps).

Some sneak peeks (because I’m in love)…

3rd Grade Multiplication and Division Relationships Interactive Notebook

Guest Post: Tanya Villacis for Earth Science Notebooks

 Today I am bringing you a guest post by a NEW blogging friend of mine. Tanya Villacis has become so excited about integrating Interactive Notebooks with her students that she has spent a great deal of time creating new flippables to make this year go so much smoother for her kiddos! Sit back, enjoy some coffee and read about her secrets to a great year!


Well it’s that time of year. Brand new pencils needing to be sharpened…freshly cut fabric sitting in the back of our cars for bulletin boards….new work outfits hanging in our closets. Back to school is among us. Summer is coming to a close and that twinge in our stomach is starting to set in. It’s not the sensation of sadness because we can longer sleep in till 9:00 (….okay maybe a little), but more the prospect of starting anew. A new school year calls for reflecting on the year before. There are always the grand successes and the unfortunate blunders that force educators to make decisions for the new batch of kiddos coming in. I’m still not over my colossal fail of a science experiment with butter and 44 students. Need I say more?

One new addition that I implemented to my teaching style this past year was flippables. THESE ARE MY RIDE OR DIE. I’ve used interactive notebooks for a few years now, but just recently dove into flippables.

What’s the secret to cutting doors and gluing paper that makes learning so much more fun for students? Whether it’s the flippable fairies sprinkling “engagement dust” on their little heads or the fluorescent cardstock I insist on using that is hypnotizing them, my students enjoy flippables. From my perspective they are more apt to take notes when using them and can really digest the massive amounts of knowledge I shovel down their little throats (thanks standardized testing).

I had great fun purchasing already made flippables on TPT throughout the school year when needed; however I reached a road block when teaching Earth’s rotation in science. OK….anyone who has taught Earth’s revolution and rotation knows my pain. Why do the curriculum gods insist on teaching such abstract concepts to 9 and 10 years old? I needed way more resources than the science textbook offered, but couldn’t find anything online.

Enter the lovely Jennifer and her IMPRESSIVE pack of flippables. This pack has EVERYTHING you could ever want. With extensive formats and options, making your own foldables tailored to your students’ needs, while aligned to your state’s curriculum (WOW, THAT’S A MOUTH FULL) is just a few clicks away.

It took me literally 30 minutes to put together 3 foldables for my students. With them we were able to really grasp the concept of Earth’s rotation and the connection to the seasons.

Earths Rotation and Revolution

*Click on the picture above to learn more about this resource*



  Of course there was also a hands-on component to strengthen understanding. I found squishy balls at Dollar Tree with a globe pattern. We poked a push pin on Florida and then took flashlights (representing the Sun) and modeled the rotation of Earth. SUCCESS. Mental light bulbs were going off all around my room that science lesson…or maybe it was all the flashlights that made it appear so bright.

Since that glorious science lesson I have made flippables for other various topics and subjects…Like these little guys…



You can find these products in my TpT store by clicking the images.

Be sure to check out Jennifer’s pack of templates. Thanks Jen for making our lives easier with your templates and thank you for giving me the opportunity to guest post.

Have a great 2014-2015 school year!


Monday Made It: Making a Mess

Monday Made It

This week is brought to you by the letter M. M for MESS!

You know how when you procrastinate long enough on something and then you always seem to want to add just one more project to make it “perfect”. Well that is how I am when I am preparing for my conference exhibits. Yep, just that one last project is going to make it the best. HA!


Webinar Aftermath

Thursday night I made a HUGE mess during my webinar. This was the aftermath of my desk but we had a blast and I can’t wait to do another one SOON!

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Next up, I decided that one last project would just take a few moments. Umm, did I forget that I had to print all 40 pages (with two pages per page), trim, laminate, cut out, hole punch and bind? And that was for EACH of the three grade levels!

I gave up after I had done two of them and the third is a mock-up with all of the sample photos. My printer sure got it’s workout this weekend and it is STILL going strong with ink!

mmi 3

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Child Labor Laws were thrown out the window this weekend as Jonna The Great helped me bag up the goodies for the SDE Reading, Writing, Math and More Conference in New Orleans.

photo 4 (2)

And it wouldn’t be a party without bags and boxes EVERYWHERE! But here I sit at 2:30 am writing this post (yep…) and I am done with all 400 bags!

Leaving tomorrow for New Orleans for a fabulous week. Can’t wait to meet some other TpT Sellers and spend some time with my dad who is joining me. He is a fellow teacher and we love teacher talk.

Left, Right, Answer Review from Live, Love, Math

Hello there! I’m Danielle from Live Love Math and I am so excited to share my review of 4mulaFun’s super cool twist on using task cards in the classroom. About a month ago, I was on spring break and like many teachers, was thinking about what I was going to do for the rest of the year. I remember being on Facebook when Jennifer posted this awesome product and just thought to myself, “I HAVE to have that!”

Left, Right, Answer- A New Take on Using Task Cards in you
I may have actually said it outloud. Jennifer must have heard me, because she asked if I would try in my classroom—um, “DUH!” I said. After all, everything of hers that I have bought and used in the classroom has been a smash hit.
Here is the basic premise: You divide your kids into groups (I did groups of 3-4 students…any more than that and I think it would not have worked as well). Print out a set of task cards for each group. You can have them work on the same set or you can differentiate and give a different set based on the needs of that group. I chose to have them all use the same set since this was review for a test. I chose to use my Probability of Compound Events Task Cards.
The directions for both students and teachers are included in the pack as well as several versions of the dice that you can have the kids use. I used the standard 6 sided die, but I may try the 4 sided one next time. I had my 1st period kiddos put the dice together, but in hindsight, I probably should have done this myself—8th graders are not as particular as I am about taping! Then, all that was left was to give each kid a recording sheet (with the directions on the sheet for easy reference!) and a set of the cards. My recommendation the first time that you use this is to physically pass the cards out to each student. They were so excited to get started that they just started rolling and no one had any cards!

After giving instructions again and reminding students to FIRST deal out all the cards evenly, they were ready to go! I would recommend giving an even number of task cards to each group that is easily divisible. I used a set that had 24 cards so I could group them in 3, 4, or even 6 people and no one would complain that someone started out with less than another student.

I loved that they helped each other with the questions that they had to answer. This question was tricky for this student and the rest of her group jumped in to help! Even though they originally loved the idea of not having to solve every card, most groups ended up solving every card anyway since they all worked together. Cooperative learning at its finest!

 I did have a few instances throughout the day where I saw a sheet like this. The student “just happened to” land on “left” or “right” each time, so I instituted a new rule that the die had to actually “flip” in the air before it landed on the desk or the floor. That took care of any intentional non-answering! Wouldn’t you know, the next roll, this student had to answer a question. Her group mates were overjoyed! 

 One thing I forgot to mention was how to keep the cards that have been answered separated from the cards that are still in play. There is this super-cute sheet called the “Task Card Graveyard” that the kids place the cards on. When all of the cards have been answered, the game is over. In some classes, the games were still going strong with 10 minutes left in class. I had those classes stop the game and answer any cards in their possession. This gave us some time to go over the answers before their test the next day. Overall, I
was so pleased with the result of this activity in class. I will definitely be
using this again! I think it would be perfect to review for semester exams with a larger set of questions…maybe 48 or so. It definitely kept my kids engaged and in middle school on a Friday, that is the ULTIMATE goal!

Thanks to Danielle for sharing how she used Left, Right, Answer in her classroom. Feel free to check out her blog or her Teachers Pay Teachers store to learn more about her and her middle school math classroom.

I am in the giving mood and would love to give away a copy to one lucky follower who leave a comment on this blog post.

Leave a comment on this blog post by Saturday, April 19th at MIDNIGHT about how you would use this in your classroom and I will pick a LUCKY winner on Sunday and send Left, Right, Answer your way!

Sent out an email to ALL who left a comment! ENJOY!


Last Minute of Course…

As many teachers are now on Christmas Break, we are all starting to wrap up last minute things around our own home and with our family for the holidays.

If you are anything like me you are just really having time to wrap the presents that you will start giving away this weekend! I know, crazy! As I was wrapping tonight I started thinking about gift tags because I don’t have any on hand. Well of course I wanted them to be super cute so I decided to whip some up of my own and of course SHARE them with you!

No Peeking Christmas Tag Freebie

Simply click on the photo and you can download them for free! Leave me a comment if you decide to use them or share about them on Facebook or Pinterest. Off to go and wrap some more now that I have my tags printed!