Thinking Outside the Box with Math

It’s funny to think about changing instruction just for engagement. But that is what I did with better support my differentiation efforts. Oh, I should mention my principle LOVED the engagement on a recent walkthrough.

Last time I mentioned spending more time looking at and using more “science” than “art” in my elementary resource room. Mostly, because I have no programming. That let me down what could have been a rabbit hole to find some sort of small group instruction but not sit and get. I mean even in my eight student math group, I have the same range you would find in a classroom and all at least two years behind.

Would it surprise you to know, that most special education resource rooms only do some version of sit and get? Differentiated but limit independent skills practice. Many times all these guys need is a reteach and time to practice—think guided release from Fisher and Frey. But what if you have kiddos who need more direction instruction—what do you do then? Bore one or move to fast for them to get the skill.

What this “idea” MUST have: guided direct instruction, varied independent practice, engagement, and easy to put together (both time and money).

Visible Learning research stresses:

  • Focusing on progress: shifting from focusing on what teachers are doing to what students are learning
  • Errors are welcome: creating a classroom where errors facilitate learning and growth
  • Explicit success criteria: students know the learning intentions of each lesson and the criteria for success
  • The right level of challenge: teachers set challenging goals, and offer students opportunities for deliberate practice to meet those challenges

Creating math centers has helped meet students' individual needs and continued to challenge everyone without the fear of failure and create an environment where risks are celebrated. I have found that thinking outside of the box is what has motivated students to do their best and reach for challenges and be more accepting with grappling with the material they don’t understand.  But it didn’t come at the cost of having success criteria that pushes them to focus on their progress in math.

I’m not sure it means they changed their minds about math and they know like it but I do know they work harder during our math time. They ask more questions. They take more risks.  But
Math centers have become a fun way for my students to gain independence in the classroom while reinforcing the concepts taught back in their general education classrooms.

Math centers allow them to practice a math topic in a variety of ways--each one focuses on the same skill allowing student s to gain independence while working towards mastery.

They have four centers:
  • Direct Instruction 
  • Independent Skill Practice
  • Technology
  • Games
Students visit all four centers twice over the course of a week. Direct instruction is teacher-directed and I provide instruction on the current math skill using guided release. 

Independent skill practice is either current skill or past skills depending on where they happen to be on their way to skill mastery. But this station like technology and games is totally independent practice.  Unlike Direct Instruction, this means its differentiation depending on where the student is on their learning math skills. 

I'm very fortunate to have iPads, which means they have a math app folder from which they choose how they want to spend that rotation time. I change the apps with each skill change, so there is allows something different there.  

The Games station doesn't always change when skills change. It depends, with our current skill, money, I slowly changed out the games as I taught the new ones. 

I hope I have given you an idea of how you can change up your math group. 

Chat soon, 


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Welcome to my all thing special education blog. I empower busy elementary special education teachers to use best practice strategies to achieve a data and evidence driven classroom community by sharing easy to use, engaging, unique approaches to small group reading and math. Thanks for Hopping By.
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