Low-Tech Math Workstations

Written by Donna Boucher

Donna has been a teacher, math instructional coach, interventionist, and curriculum coordinator. A frequent speaker at state and national conferences, she shares her love for math with a worldwide audience through her website, Math Coach’s Corner. Donna is also the co-author of Guided Math Workshop.
 I am purposely going low-tech tonight to show you that math workstations need not necessarily be fancy, cute, or complicated.  More on that in a minute.

I was in the classroom of a dear friend and amazing teacher today, and we were plotting and planning math for the coming school year.  We were talking about setting up math workstations for the beginning of the year, and I was distracted by a math warm-up I saw on the wall:

Students record their solutions to the warm-up on a recording sheet, and I deduced that for this particular part of the warm-up their instructions would be to solve the two expressions.  In doing so, they would be showing an understanding of multiplying by multiples of 10.  Perfect.  But what a great workstation this would be!  Instead of just solving the two expressions, it would be so easy to extend.  Here’s where the low-tech approach comes in:

On a large index cards, make an I Can card…
Put a sample card…
Put a photograph of how it looks to build the first expression of the sample…
And the second part of the sample…
And how it looks to draw the model…
Finally, cut some index cards in half and write expressions for the kiddos to use in the workstation.

Voila!  Look carefully at the I Can card and notice also that now the kids are extending this activity–applying their knowledge–to write two more related expressions.  Love it.

Time for my CRA plug.  We’ve all taught this particular skill before.  The kids know that within the bigger expression there’s a “little fact they know” and then they add zeros to adjust for place value.  But do they conceptually understand it?  Maybe, maybe not.  That’s why you really want them to experience it with manipulatives (concrete) and to draw models (representational) before going to the symbolic (abstract).

Enjoy the rest of your evening!  I’ve got some Chopped to catch up on…


  1. Anonymous

    I always love reading your tips about math, but this time I received a bonus fact — I did not realize Chopped was back and did not have the DVR set! Love that show! Now I will have a slew of episodes to unwind with after teaching 5th grade math all day!

    Jg in Texas

    • Donna Boucher

      How funny! Oh, yes, Chopped is in full swing. “If your food does not cut is, you…will be chopped!” And Ted Allen is so serious when he says it!


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