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!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Why should you use learning centers?

Learning centers are an amazing way to get your students to take a more active role in their learning. If designed effectively, math centers can provide much-needed review, practice, and enrichment for students that is differentiated to meet students' needs and interests. When I first began to use math centers, I had no idea what an amazing impact they could have.
                                                  Here are just some of the benefits:
  • Increased student motivation.   I'd be willing to bet that you like it when your principal involves you in making important decisions at work, instead of simply telling you, "This is what we are doing and that's that."  Kids feel the same way. Students who have a choice of learning activities feel empowered and tend to show much more interest and persistence in completing work. I am often amazed by how much center work gets completed in my classes. As a traveling math teacher, I occasionally walk into a classroom  to teach the day's lesson, and I find a student or two already working on math centers before class even begins. When kids are assigning themselves work and having fun doing so, that's a pretty exciting thing to see.
  • Meaningful learning opportunities.  Students are working on skills they genuinely need to practice or that they are personally interested in exploring further. This is provided that your center activities target students' real learning needs, which requires a degree of planning on your part, as well as an understanding of your students' strengths and weaknesses, instructional levels, and your curriculum. Future posts will address this topic in more detail. Also, it bears mentioning that after my first full year of using centers, I had a significant increase in the number of students scoring "advanced" on their state testing. 
  • Learning centers foster independence.  Because students are working at their own pace on a variety of activities, students have little choice but to work somewhat independently. Although some centers may be completed with a partner and I do circulate and assist students, there tends to be a little less teacher involvement with center work. Also, because students are choosing their own activities, it forces them to make decisions about which activities provide the right skills and offer the appropriate level of challenge for their particular learning needs.
  • Learning centers improve classroom management.  Once your centers are in place, your students will have no reason to get into mischief. Early finishers will have the freedom to move on to another activity that interests them, instead of sitting around talking and passing notes. Also, motivated students tend to behave better in general.
  • Learning centers improve time management. Not only do students have less down time, but they sometimes work harder to get their regular assignments done so that they can move on to a center activity. 
  • Learning centers challenge advanced students. You can tailor your centers to challenge even your most gifted students. You will be far less likely to have to sit in a parent conference and hear that a student is "bored" in your class because they aren't being challenged.
  • Your principal will like it. Because the students' interest in their center work will be apparent (and because your classroom management will be even better than ever), your principal will be impressed during your next observation. Administrators like to see students being independent and taking charge of their own learning.
  • Center activities can be fun! Although I strive to make learning fun all day, the activities in my centers tend to have a slightly greater "fun" factor than my average classroom assignment. Meaningful, challenging games and puzzles are a staple of any successful center, and kids truly enjoy the freedom and choice that centers provide. 
Here is an example of a fun math center activity that provides meaningful 
application of a skill I teach, classifying angles:

Click to view:
Geometry Pictures (Set of 2)