Math Stations and Expectations

Last week I was paging through Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics by Peter Liljedahl and thought it was time to revisit math station norms. I’ve been using them more this year than ever and for the most part, the students have reaped benefits from being in them. Last week I walked through the classroom to find some groups on-task while others were talking about non-math topics. I really don’t mind the social aspect of the math stations, but I also want to make sure that time is being spent wisely seeing that I only see students for 50 – 60 minutes.. I find that the math conversations and strategies that that occur at these stations pay dividends later on throughout the school year. I remember briefly discussing the math stations back in August and I thought a refresh was needed. My intention was to start off the week discussing math stations and then have students work in partners keeping in mind the expectations that were discussed that day.

I ended up using Desmos to collect student information about the environment, attitudes and behaviors occurring during math station work. Students first started by self-reflecting on their beliefs during math stations and then rated their group’s actions.

The class then reviewed overall results. This helped spur on conversations about math stations and group work. This also reinforced the notion that math station groups are meaningful and intentionally used in the classroom.

The conversation was essential in my mind to get students to think more critically about what makes a great math station. Students were then given the following slide with a text box.

This was also followed-up by:

What does a great attitude for math station learning look/sound like?

What does great behavior for math station learning look/sound like?

Every student added their response to the list. The class reviewed the results together and we created a notable list of the highlights. Students agreed to what was written down and then we categorized them into groups.

The answers were put together into a document and printed out.

Students then went to math stations for a group task. I’m looking forward to referring back this day to reinforce what math station groups should look/sound like moving forward.

You can find the slide deck for this activity here.

Math Station Setup

Classroom Stations

I’m always on the lookout for classroom furniture. The reason comes from a belief that classrooms should be setup in a way to allow students to work together.  Having classroom furniture gives students places to work in the classroom. That collaboration can take on many different forms, but having set spots in my room helps organize the process. Opportunities to share ideas, debate, work though problems and come to some type of consensus often exists when students are given time to work together. Talking through their math processes can help students practice their math communication skills. During that process students have to validate their mathematical thinking, especially if there’s some type of disagreement between peers.

Teachers use many different methods to create student groups. I still use the generic popsicle stick method to choose groups. Lately, I’ve been using Michael’s super grouper 3.2 spreadsheet. This has saved me so much time in organizing my student groups for stations. Many functions are available within the spreadsheet and I have only explored some of the features. Feel free to download Michael’s amazing creation here.

Super Grouper Excel Sheet
Super Grouper Excel Sheet

Once students see their group on the whiteboard they head towards their specific station for the day. I then turn on my timer and students work.  Sometimes the stations are used for individual journal writing and other times they’re used as an area for students to utilize math manipulatives. All of my math stations are setup around the perimeter of the room.  Each station has a name so it’s easy to assign particular places in the room. I decided to go with a coffee theme for my stations.  I put a logo on each table to make them easier to identify.  Click on an image below to see the station in more detail.

I periodically check in with each group to ask questions and observe math understanding. I jot down notes, take pictures or record math conversations that can be used later. When the timer goes off all groups go back to their seat and the class debriefs. So far this system seems to be working well.  I’m looking forward to using these types of stations throughout the year.

QR Codes and Math Stations

Providing feedback to students is important.   I find that the more specific the feedback is, the better.  Teachers use many ways to give feedback, whether that’s verbally or through written form.  Ideally, I’d like to be able to meet with every student in my class and offer them undivided individual feedback to improve understanding and enrich.  That’s not always possible so stations or workshop models become part of the classroom norm.  Math workshop models can improve opportunities to give 1:1 feedback.

During the past two weeks I’ve been using QR code activities (1) (2) for one of my math stations.  One of these activities can last 3-4 math sessions depending on the math concept being covered.  These types of stations involve questions that I’ve found through my PLN.  Some of the QR activities that are used involve scavenger hunts.  Students answer questions in groups or individually and check their answers by scanning the QR Code.  The QR code is unlike the actual teacher’s manual as student’s can’t immediately peek over to see what the answer is.


Instead, students have to scan the code to check their answer.  Students then document and turn in a sheet that indicates whether the students answer was correct or what mistake happened.  I’m looking into creating feedback codes that help students with common errors  with particular problems.  Students are also asked to write in their math journals about problems that were incorrect.  I’m using  this site to create the codes as SMS messages.  If used correctly, QR code activities can increase student reflection opportunities and engagement.  For more information or practical ideas on how to use QR codes in the classroom check out Denise and Edutopia‘s resources.

On a side note, I’m looking forward to using the idea of clickable paper in the classroom at some point.

How do you use QR codes in the classroom?

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