math centers


6 Ideas for Creating Math Centers

Recently, I published 10 New Ideas for Creating Literacy Centers. Suzy Brooks (@SimplySuzy) first introduced me to the concept of using technology to create learning centers through her creative use of her SMARTBoard. She designed opportunities for her students to work independently or in small groups at the board to review key skills and complete small activities. In particular, I loved Suzy’s approach to math. Each of her students had an opportunity to interact with math problems at the board, and yet she would differentiate the content to meet their needs by assigning each student a different challenge. The video below shows what this looked like in practice.

Whether you have a single computer, an interactive whiteboard, a cart of Chromebooks, or a handful of iPads in your classroom, the learning center approach can be used to encourage students to engage with math concepts. In addition to Suzy, I would like to credit the fantastic work of Kristen Wideen and Meghan Zigmond for most of these ideas.

Explanation Stations

Sometimes, students need to practice solving problems. As teachers, we want to “see their work” and have them explain their answers. However, it is often unrealistic to be able to conference with every student and also capture their thinking. Armed with screencasting tools such as Explain Everything (iOS, ChromeOS, Android, & Windows), Educreations (iOS & web), or SnagIt (ChromeOS), students can now talk their way through problems and explain their thinking.

Consider creating a station where students take a problem from a worksheet that either baffles them, challenges them, or that they may want to explain for their classmates, and have them create a short screencast to make their thinking visible.

Math Think Alouds

Building off of the previous idea, students can also talk through their ideas while working with digital manipulatives. Meghan has her students use the free apps from the Math Learning Center, take screenshots, and then share their thinking by using the recording features in Explain Everything. The same technique can also be used with Book Creator. Students could use the audio recording to narrate their pictures.

On a computer or Chromebook, students can use the web version of the Math Learning Center apps and then record their thinking with SnagIt or Screencastify. If recording is not possible, students can insert screenshots into shared Google Slides or Drawings and then annotate the images to explain their thinking.

As Meghan illustrates on her blog and through the video below, these can also be group activities where students collaborate to explain their thinking on a number of different problems.

Student Created Math Story Centers

Last year, a participant in one of my EdTechTeacher Full Year Programs came up with this fantastic idea. First, she created a center where each student used Educreations to create video story that presented a math problem. Because Educreations allows students to share with a link, they were able to add them to a shared Padlet. Then, she had a second center where the students solved each others’ story problems on paper. This was a great example where the students actually had a chance to create and share content as well as engage with math concepts in a different way.

Place Value Smashes

The idea of App Smashing, initially coined by Greg Kulowiec, has expanded beyond iPad to all devices. The basic concept is to create content in one app, add a layer in another app, publish and then share. While this seems complex for young students to complete independently, Meghan proves otherwise with her Popplet and Number Pieces Place Value App Smash.

Whether on iPad or the web, students can combine the manipulatives available through the Math Learning Center with Popplet (iOS & web) to show their understanding of place values. In particular, I love how Meghan takes advantage of the drawing capabilities of Popplet to have students sketch the greater than/ less than symbol.

math centers

Image Credit: Meghan Zigmond

She has her students draw dots on the symbols to help them remember their significance – every 1st grader knows that 2 is bigger than 1!

Record Mathematical Language

Both Meghan and Kristen regularly discuss the value of having students use math vocabulary in their explanations, especially with the concepts of 2D and 3D shapes. Meghan has a great set of task cards, such as the one below, that provide students with hands-on experiences with 2D shapes. Each one encourages students to create with shapes and then explain their work using the proper math vocabulary.

math centers

Image Credit: Meghan Zigmond

Similarly, Kristen has a fantastic set of Geometry activities for students to explore 3D shapes. In particular, she encourages her students to use the camera on their iPads to make a tangible connection to 3D shapes in the real world and then record their thinking using a number of apps. Not only does this give her students a chance to use their math vocabulary, but they can also share with their classmates.

Counting & Currency Centers

Most elementary math curricula require students be able to identify currency, count it, and then make estimates. However, there are few resources to support these activities. Kristen created a number of center activities for students to both interact with physical currency and document their thinking. By taking advantage of screencasting apps, Kristen can gain valuable insights not only into her students understanding of counting and currency, but also their critical thinking.

Regardless of the tools, apps, and technologies that you may have available, the key to learning centers is that they encourage students to construct their own understanding and create artifacts as evidence of their learning. Great centers encourage students to work independently, problem solve, and demonstrate critical thinking in order to solve a challenge. Kristen has even more wonderful tips for creating these types of authentic learning experiences.


math centersBeth, Kristen, and other elementary educators will be speaking at the iPad Summit in Boston November 16-18th. Learn more about their sessions and register at





Featured image via Flickr

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Beth Holland


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