Perhaps you are thinking, even if I start a math center or other learning center and fill it with games, puzzles, and other fun activities, I'll never have time to let my students work on any of it. As a fellow teacher, I get it. Time is your MOST valuable resource. When I first implemented my math centers, I originally questioned whether or not any of them would ever get used. But, you'll be surprised when some of your students seem to do everything you offer them. You will have time.
Here are some ideas for creating time for your students to work on math centers or other center activities:
Before school. Many teachers assign morning work anyway. Some of the students in my school have as much as 35-40 minutes of free time in the mornings before class, while others go to breakfast or tutoring. If you have that sort of opportunity, consider assigning one morning a week to math centers or writing centers instead of morning work. Centers are a great way to get students focused and get the most out of your mornings.
During class. For my math class, my students have a math journal that they get out every day. I encourage students to keep a math center worksheet handy at all times, by sticking it in the front cover of their journal. This way if we are preparing to transition from one activity to another within a lesson, kids who are finished early can just pull out an extra assignment and work on it for a few minutes instead of sitting around talking or drawing a picture.
At the end of class. When you have a range of ability levels in your class, no matter how much you try to differentiate, there always seem to be some students who tend to finish early, and some who never do. When you are trying to help that struggling student who just "doesn't get it," it's great to know that everyone else is on task. Giving students the option to move on to a center activity when they finish really helps keep the class running smoothly. Sure, you may actually have to stop and help a student with a center activity, but it's a great feeling knowing that everyone is challenged and engaged. My math lesson plans almost always end with the words, "Math centers." The students know, that center work is always an option when they run out of work. I don't even have to say a word. I believe that some of my students even work harder to get finished with their assignments so they can go play a math game or do a math puzzle.
After a test. Tests are the one activity that is seldom differentiated, and they leave many students sitting around pulling out a book or doodling when they are finished well in advance of their classmates. At the end of a unit, I love having those students work on a fun math center activity that addresses some of the skills they have just learned, or forces them to apply those skills in a different situation.
After school. Depending on the size of your school and the geography of the area that feeds students into your school, you may have "babysitting duty" at the end of the day, with several students sitting around for up to half an hour waiting for their bus to be called. Math centers and other learning centers are a great way to give them some purpose while they are sitting around waiting to go home.
The fact is, you will find that centers actually save time in many ways. You'll have to stop less often toward the end of lessons or between activities to create work or correct behaviors of your early finishers. More importantly, your students will have less down time and complete more work than ever before.
A couple of years ago, I attended an inservice on learning centers in the classroom. Since then, learning centers have become a huge part of my teaching. Now, my students participate in self-directed, self-motivating review, practice, and enrichment on a regular basis. The kids love the math centers and even ask for more work!! This blog is dedicated to helping teachers make math centers a meaningful part of their instruction, thereby increasing students' achievement and the enjoyment of teaching!