Math Stations are an excellent part of any complete Math program. You can use math stations in a variety of ways in the classroom. Some teachers set aside a specific time for Math Stations, other use it for children who are early finishers of seat work. I like to use a combination of both. Young students are only able to focus on a short amount of seat work, and older students, of course, are able to sit still for longer amounts of time. I currently teach Grade 2, and I use Math stations most days for the children who finish early, and I also use them to introduce a new topic, or idea, because I believe that individual, hands on activities are the best way for children to learn.
When I taught kindergarten I used Math Stations as a complete method of teaching Math. Most of my lessons were based out of the program Math Their Way by Mary Baratta-Lorton. Although this program was developed almost 50 years ago, the basic concepts are fantastic. Here are some of the ideas that I gained from her program.
1- start with free exploration. Allow the children to play with the manipulatives without limitations. It takes a few days for the kids to move past ‘playing’ with the manipulatives, and can focus on specific activities with them. They need to ‘get their play out’.
2- set aside a specific area to contain the math stations and label them with pictures AND words.
3- teach the children how to set up and how to clean up the math stations before you expect to start full lessons with them.
4- baby steps – introduce new manipulatives and new stations slowly. Give the kids lots of time to explore.
5- use real life materials – and explain to the kids where they come from to further their connection between the concepts and the real world. Cute plastic teddy bears and brightly colored blocks are fun and can be used as well, but real-world manipulatives are the best. Math their Way explains how to use “junk” to create collections of manipulatives. The best part about these collections or “Junk Jobs” as I call them, Is that they are free and easy to create. Send home notes to your parents asking for help for your collections and you will be amazed at what you will get in a short amount of time. My collection of Junk Jobs includes about 50 keys discarded from a hardware store, hundreds of buttons, tons and tons of different colored Bread tags from loaves of bread, lids from dried out markers, beads, and more…
6- be consistent. Each page has a little happy face on the top right corner of the page to help early readers realize which way is up when reading print. This is consistent throughout the program. Every worksheet is labeled like this. It’s the consistencies in the little things that make Math Stations go smoothly
Overall, I think Math Stations are an excellent way to teach Math. They are extremely flexible and can be relatively inexpensive to set up. Although they do take a lot of time to set up, your students will learn so much more, by making connection to the real world, and by using the manipulatives by themselves because children learn the best when they get to “play” with things. To play, after all, is what every child’s job truly is.-