If you teach then you know this buzzword: Differentiation. Oh yes, glorious differentiation. Sounds so good on paper, but also so hard to implement in the classroom. The goal of differentiation is that a teacher would have multiple ways of presenting material so that you hit as many students as possible. But the trick is to come up with these multiple ways, and implement them in a way that all students are engaged all the time. This year I made it a goal of mine to do more differentiation, especially in my regular classes. I decided the best way to do this in math was with centers.
I first set up my classroom so that the desks were in groups of four. Then I created the seating chart by grouping students of similar ability levels together. I also gave each “quad” a name of a famous mathematician and made signs so the groups could remember their name. Figuring out how to set up 7 quads in my classroom was a challenge all in itself. Here’s what my room currently looks like.
I knew I wanted to come up with four centers, so two groups could be working on the same center at once. Also then I would only need to make two sets of each center. I wanted to use tubs so that I could put the materials for each center in the tub and they could easily be passed around. I also wanted to have the center names be the same so I could label the tubs and these would remain constant each time we did centers. I would just change the activity inside the tub. Here are the four centers I came up with…
- Wicked Whiteboards
This center has four whiteboards, four markers and 1 eraser in the tub. Each time we do centers I will come up with practice problems for the students to work out on the whiteboards. (The kiddies love whiteboard work).
- Amazing Activities
Each time the “amazing activity” will be some sort of tactile learning activity. Typically these activities would use dice or cards or some sort of game.
- Puzzle Time
These could be logic puzzles, but I have been using Tarsia puzzles a lot. If you’ve not installed the free Tarsia puzzle maker yet you need to get on that! It’s so simple to use and free!!! Check it out here:
- Small Group Instruction
Small group instruction is where I’ll be working with the groups on some concept they’ve been struggling with. Here is where the majority of the differentiation will come in. I can work on challenging problems with my advanced groups and do some review with my lower groups. I really like this small group setting, and I hope the kids will do well when they are in a 1-8 ratio.
Other Important Features
- Exit Slips
Each time we do centers I’m going to have the kids fill out an exit slip. This will help me tremendously when setting up future centers. I can see what they thought was helpful, and what areas they still need more review on. I created a tray where students will turn in exit slips after the centers.
Each time we do centers I write a schedule on the board and this helps students to basically run themselves. I use abbreviations for the centers and it works well.
- Center Station
I set up a table in the front of the classroom with all the tubs for the centers so students will know where to get the tubs and where to put them when they finish.
This is an optional thing. Mostly I just watch the clock. Sometimes I will fudge the intervals a bit. Especially if I need more time with a lower group in the small group instruction. The main thing is that each group gets sufficient time with each center. Also you want to make sure there are about 2 – 3 minutes left at the end of class for students to fill out exit slips. If not everyone is scrambling and you don’t always get a slip from everyone.