December 20, 2018

Alyssa Besonen

Making Math Move with Upper Elementary Students

Topics: Learning at Home, Learning Through Play, STEM


I used to think that students were able to remain focused for a whole group math lesson that lasted 25-30 minutes long. I noticed some bored-looking facial expressions and students who were unable to respond or demonstrate understanding and after looking at the data from my students over several years, I saw a decline in their ability to understand concepts in math. I knew I needed to change my instructional approach.



Enter Math Stations

Looking at my Facebook teacher groups, Instagram, and Twitter, I noticed a significant movement toward teaching with math stations and decided to look into it further. Since I still had a curriculum I was required to implement by my district, I had to tweak some of the approaches I looked into. The math stations that “stuck” spell M-A-T-H and students enjoy the benefit of movement throughout math, as well as mini lessons that last no longer than about ten minutes.


M-A-T-H Stations

There are many options out there and teachers must find what works best with their particular group of students and personal style. What works for me is establishing the following rotations Monday-Thursday and I use Friday as a catch up time for the week. Also, depending on the lesson content, I may take two days for one lesson and break it into parts (students then have about 15-20 per station and get more accomplished).

  • M - Math Facts Practice (mostly multiplication/division; this is where they can also use technology)
  • A - At your seat (journal pages from curriculum)
  • T - Teacher’s Choice; often where teacher works with students struggling on specific concepts
  • H - Hands-On (pattern blocks, tangrams, pentominoes, patterns, unifix cubes, fraction pieces, Play-Doh, math tiles)



The math lesson involves an “I do, We do, You do” release of responsibility to students. For example, when teaching partial products multiplication the teacher will first model the steps visually and verbally. Next, students will practice together; often on whiteboards, as the teacher checks and guides as he or she walks around. Finally, students complete on their own when the majority of the students are able to confidently do all of the steps for the concept. I may take notes of students who seem to be struggling so that when the student meets with me, the concept can be directly taught again.



Trial and Error

I have noticed my instructional practices changing as I have started to use stations. There was a whole unit from the curriculum I was able to review and assess without blindly looking to teach each individual lesson. Students are understanding that we may slow down or speed up depending on how well the entire class can grasp the content required for meeting the standard. I am more confident of each student’s strengths and weaknesses since I get to work with them in a small group. Some of the misconceptions or confusion can be cleared up during the small group time and I can change the groups based on student needs.



Repeated practice of math facts can happen through games, as well as assist students who are needing more social skill development while working on learning math concepts. Students like using a variety of games from cards to game boards and flashcards using a game approach. Having the opportunity to be social as well as practice math has improved automaticity of basic math facts based on informal assessments.


Photo of students playing Math Dice

The best gift of implementing this small group structure in math has been the positive feedback from the students. I often hear, “Math is already over?” Or, “I thought that was going to be much harder and I wouldn’t understand it but I can do it!” As a teacher responsible for making sure standards are met, I have seen an increase in overall math scores after taking on a change in my instructional delivery. Don’t be afraid to try it out and see if it works in your classroom



Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 2.46.36 PMAlyssa Besonen recently started her twentieth year as a licensed teacher. Prior to teaching at Madison Marietta-Nassau Elementary School, she taught in Willmar, St. Cloud and Litchfield, Minnesota. In addition to teaching, she is also a course evaluator for Learners Edge. Besonen is married to an educator and has one daughter and one son, as well as a furry dog son. She enjoys walking, reading, writing, and watching her children participate in their various activities.


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