Saturday, August 9, 2014

You Oughta Know... ABOUT MATH WORKSHOP! (August Blog Hop)

WAHOO!!!  This is my very first BLOG HOP.  Thank you so much to Mrs. McClain for hosting.  :-)  We are a bunch of teachers sharing tons of teaching tricks and tips that are amazingly helpful as we start thinking about a new year of school.  Have fun BLOG HOPPIN' AROUND!!! :-)

Thinking back to one year ago right now (summer of 2013), I remember popping the question to my teaching partner (Mrs. Briggs):  

Should we try Math Workshop next year?! 
(Yes!  It was as nerve-wracking and exciting as actually “popping the question” would be… right?! HA!)  

Anyhow, we both nervously talked through the pros and the cons.  

We KNEW what we were doing (hour-long, whole group instruction) was NOT working for us!  25% of our class received special education services while another 25% of our class was made up of the highest math students in the grade, and we had EVERYTHING in between.  

We needed to do something else.  

Something better. 

I remember sitting in my living room with Briggs as we were researching Math Workshop on the internet, buying Math Workshop manuals and HOW-TO guides on TpT, and processing this concept together.  

How could we manage this?  

How would it look?  

Is it even worth it?  

We spent the rest of our summer researching, collaborating, and STRESSING as we tried to put this concept into action. 

Looking back, was it worth the effort?  


WHY Should I Do Math Workshop!?

·1) THE DATA  Let me start by talking about my class makeup and incoming statistics. 

~ The Branke Bunch is a 5th Grade Team with 48 students (with 2 general ed teachers and 1 special ed teacher for about 75% of the day) 
~ 26% of my students receive special education services
~ 43% of my students scored below grade level on the math portion of our Fall NWEA  
~ On the M.E.A.P. (our state standardized test taken in the FALL), 52% of my students scored below the "proficient" score in math
~ 54.3% of my students scored Non-Mastery in the Connections sub-category on the fall math M.E.A.P.
~ 78.3% of my students scored Non-Mastery in the Decimals/Fractions sub-category on the fall math M.E.A.P.
~ 84.8% of my students scored Non-Mastery in the Whole Number Multiplication category on the fall math M.E.A.P.

After a year of math workshop, here are our NWEA stats:

2) PARENTS LOVE IT  As you can imagine, when your data shows growth and improvement, the parents LOVE it!  I was amazed with how much positive feedback I have received about math workshop.  There were too many success stories to list, but here are a couple that come right to mind:

  Success Story #1:  It was Curriculum Night 2013.  I was all pumped about how our presentation went to our parents.  We explained all about Math Workshop and how students would get to use technology every day to practice their math skills on a program called Moby Math.  I could see parents smiling and getting excited.  I felt so good about how it went...until...

    One parent came up to me and said, "My daughter HATES Moby Math.  She will NOT be happy about this."  I tried to explain how motivating it would be for her daughter to see how her efforts impact her growth, and all I got were head shakes and laughs.  I was discouraged and bummed, to say the least.

    Anyhow, the year went on... I got over it... but I still always thought about that comment whenever I talked to the student about Moby.  

    February came around, and we had our WINTER MOBY MATH OLYMPICS.  This is when the students competed on Moby for the most growth.  (We did this each trimester to boost motivation in our technology station.)  Anyhow, I get a phone call from the parent from Curriculum Night saying, "I don't know WHAT you did to my daughter, but she will NOT get off of Moby Math!  She has been on since she got home, and I had to fight with her to take a dinner break!  I don't know how you did it, but THANK YOU!"  

    That student ended up getting the bronze medal of the Winter Moby Olympics!  Here were her stats:
 From February 10, 2014 through February 19, 2014, this student achieved the following:
Final Score (correct math problems completed): 721
Minutes Spent Working on Moby Math Skills: 1,125
Academic Growth Made in Mathematics: 7 Months
Mathematics Skills Passed: 24

The best part?!  Right after this picture was taken, this student said to me:  "You know, I started the Moby Olympics to win the medal.  But now that I've won, I want to keep doing it for the growth!"

And THAT is why EVERYONE should do Math Workshop!!!!!!

    Success Story #2: One parent wrote the following email to my administrators about her daughter's success with math workshop:

Principal Watson and Assistant Principal Corbitt,

I wanted to share with you a success story, thanks to the overwhelming devotion of Mrs. Briggs and Mrs. Jahnke. My daughter has always been frustrated with math. The program that Mrs. Briggs and Mrs. Jahnke developed, coupled with their unwavering commitment to their students, has tremendously helped my daughter improve her math this year. She's mastered all of her testing, and I believe Mrs. Jahnke shared with me that my daughter’s scores improved by 90% over the beginning of the year.  I know you know how lucky you are to have these two special ladies as educators. I figured you would want to know how much parents, like my husband and me, appreciate them too!

It's emails like this that make me thank my lucky stars that we heard about this crazzzyyyy idea... MATH WORKSHOP!

3) TEACHER/STUDENT RATIO  When using the Math Workshop structure, it allows for you to teach students with an average teacher/student ratio of 1:8, opposed to a typical structure where you teach in a 1:25 ratio!  This benefits students because...

~ It allows ALL students to shine!  
~ It helps teachers know the progress and status of EVERY STUDENT at ALL TIMES!
~ Each student gets more opportunities to participate and be active in their learning.

4) FOSTERS DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION  When I am with my 5-10 students in a given group, I can slow things down or speed things up based on the needs that I see.  No longer are students getting BORED because they are ready to move on before their peers, or getting FRUSTRATED because they can't keep up with their peers.  It is "JUST RIGHT" math for EVERYONE!

I really feel like I could go on forever about WHY to do Math Workshop, but I figure if you are still reading this post, I have already convinced you!!  Therefore, it's time to move on to the MEAT AND POTATOES... the "HOW" of Math Workshop!!!

HOW to do Math Workshop!?

The STRUCTURE is the single most important component of math workshop.  Setting up a solid structure takes a good amount of prep and training (for the students), but pays off once the year gets rolling.  It will take the first month of school to teach your students the structure of math workshop before you will get into the curriculum!  I know it seems crazy!  I know you will start October and start freaking out that you have not even really started your math curriculum… but that is OKAY!  It took us until about mid-October to really get into our math curriculum… and look at our data above.  I promise, it will pay off!  Once the structure is in place, you will be working with EVERY STUDENT in a SMALL GROUP SETTING, EVERY SINGLE DAY for the rest of the year!!! 

Also, as far as TEACHER PREP goes, the MOST TIME AND PREP takes place BEFORE THE SCHOOL YEAR STARTS!  It may seem like a lot of work, but honestly, there is NOT much prep AT ALL on a day-to-day basis!!!  (Which is perfect for me, because I have WAY more time over the summer than I do during the school year!)

So, here is what needs to be prepared BEFORE YOU START MATH WORKSHOP:


·      This may be the most difficult part… trying to figure out a block of time during your day where you can have Math Workshop!  We take an hour and a half block of time in our morning.  I would say that is an ideal amount of time… that way you can have four 20-minute rotations with transition time.  Now, most people simply do not have that block of uninterrupted time in their day.  That is okay!  It can be done in an hour or two 30-45 minute blocks of time.  Whatever time you have, you can modify your schedule to make it work for you.  Once you find your chunk of time, create a rotation schedule that works for you. 

·      I blew this schedule up and posted it on my wall.  If you don’t have a poster maker at your school, and don’t want to pay Kinkos or Staples to blow it up to poster size, you can just print the schedule off on shipping labels, and stick them in each student’s math folder!  Here is what my rotation schedule looks like in my classroom:

You can get the cute “Math Workshop” pennants and group/number headings in this MATH WORKSHOP GUIDE from Clutter-Free Classroom’s TpT store:  

  This guide helped me TREMENDOUSLY in setting up my math workshop!!!  And if you don't know about Clutter-Free Classroom... clear the next few hours looking through her store and buying all her stuff.  She is UNREAL!

·      Once you have your block of time, you need to figure out what you will do for each of the 3-4 rotations.  Then, come up with clear expectations for each station.  Ask yourself the following questions as you develop your station expectations:
o   What will my students do when they finish the task? 
o   What will they do if they DON’T finish the task? 
o   How long do they have to finish the task?
o   What will my students do if they need help on the task?
o   How will I hold my students accountable for this task?
o   What are some potential behavior issues students may have with this task?
o   What materials will my students need for this task?
o   What is the purpose of this task?
o   How will this task meet the needs of my students?

You should think through all of these questions for each of your rotations.  Then, develop STATION EXPECTATIONS for your students for each of the rotations that address these questions.  Here are our Station Expectation Cards:

Transitions for math workshop are HUGE!!!  Your students will be transitioning up to 5 times per workshop!!!  Your transitions need to be well thought out, clearly taught, and PRACTICED tremendously.  Transitions should take NO LONGER THAN 60 SECONDS. 

In our class, we created a 60-second MUSIC CLIP that the students transition to.  The best part?!  The transition clip is attached to our SMART BOARD TIMER, so when the timer goes off after 20 minutes, it plays the music!  The kids know that as soon as they hear the music, they need to transition.  They also know that when they hear the chorus, the clip is about to end, so they need to make sure they are at their next station AND WORKING by the time the clip is over.  This makes our transitions concrete (music = move, no music = work), self-run (no screaming “TIME TO ROTATE!  YOU SHOULD BE AT YOUR NEXT ROTATION!  IT SHOULD BE QUIET NOW!”), and timely (rotations are consistently 60 seconds every time).

We use the song 867-5309…get it… NUMBERS…MATH WORKSHOP!  (So what if the song is about some guy who wants a girl and found her number on a bathroom stall… or whatever… the kids only end up knowing the chorus, which is numbers anyhow!  Plus it’s a cut.  No worries!)  But, you can pick any song, and just use Garage Band or some other software to cut the music to the amount of time you want your transitions to be.  Then, you just create a timer with a custom sound.  (Comment below if you want me to go into more detail on how to do this!) 

***If you want my SMART Board Transition Timer, just email me and I will send it to you!!!***

***For more information on how to set up the STRUCTURE of Math Workshop, you may enjoy this Math Workshop Guide by Terri Thornton.  This guide was pretty much my Math Workshop BIBLE as I was learning and setting up my structure.  100+ pages of info, pics, data, and more!  Thank you, Terri!  You are BEYOND AMAZING!  I could NOT have made the switch to Math Workshop without you!

Before you start math workshop, there are some materials that need prep so that math workshop can pretty much run itself the rest of the year!  Here are some materials you will want to have prepared OVERALL for math workshop AND to prepare for each STATION. 


    • One material that I distribute to each student is a “Student Data Notebook”.  This enables the students to track their progress of each standard as we go.  Since we may not be at the same standard for every group, I love that students are able to track their own individual progress.

I sell these at my TpT store for 4th, 5th, and 6th grades.  (3rd grade COMING SOON)


At the beginning of the year, my students are asked to bring in 5 (1 per unit) plastic duo-tang folders.  (We didn’t specify “plastic” last year, and the students who had paper folders had data notebooks that fell apart after the big units.)

At the beginning of each unit, we give them a cover page to attach to the front of their folder.  Then, we give them the data notebook pages (3-hole punched) to put in the duo tangs.  Then, we give them labels for the two pockets: “HANDOUTS” & “ASSESSMENTS.”  That way, they put all their assessments for the unit in one pocket, and all their homework and handouts in the other pocket.

Here is what they end up looking like:

We have our students update this regularly during our Focus Lessons... ESPECIALLY after they take a P.O.M. (Proof Of Mastery) Assessment!!!  A P.O.M. is a quick, 1-page check in for each CCSS.  They also record their PRE & POST UNIT ASSESSMENTS in their Data Notebooks as well.  I have them for 4th & 5th grades at my store as well!

4TH GRADE                                  5TH GRADE

    • We also put together a filing cabinet with file folders for EACH COMMON CORE STANDARD
    • We label each folder with the CCSS code (i.e. 5.OA.3).  Since the students have the codes in their Data Notebook, they know what the learning goal for each code.
    • These file folders are for the students to grab EXTRA PRACTICE SHEETS for any of the CCSSs they need to work on.  If and when they finish their Independent Practice before the end of their rotation, they grab an extra practice sheet.  They can practice the standard they are currently working on, a previous one, or a future one.  Whichever standard they need to work on the most!  
    • PARENTS LOVE THIS!!!  We always get parents asking us, "What should my child be working on?!"  Now, the STUDENTS KNOW exactly what they need to work on AND where to find practice sheets for them!
    • Now, I know what you are thinking..."Where do you get all the sheets for each CCSS?!?!?!?!???!?!"  GREAT QUESTION!  NOOO.... I do NOT make them all!  There are several places where I gather practice sheets from... some free and some paid.  
      • If you are looking for a particular CCSS, you can just Google the CCSS code and tons of stuff usually pops up!
      • Also, there are great websites where you can search for worksheets by CCSS.  My favorite free website is Common Core Sheets.  You can even sort sheets by standards.  Then, you can get tons of versions practicing the same skill!  Click on the image below to see this site:

      • Teachers Pay Teachers has HUNDREDS (if not more) of OUTSTANDING yearlong bundles for practice sheets for each CCSS.  I have bought TONS! I also buy CCSS ASSESSMENT PACKS, and use them as reviews or practice sheets! Here are some that I use:
        • I L-O-V-E, LOVE Kristine Nannini's TpT store!  She is seriously AMAZING!  I have bought TONS of her products, and love every one.  Here are some good CCSS bundled practice sheets I used this year:
        • Another ROCKSTAR TpT seller is Melissa O'Bryan--awww yeahhhh 5th Grade Michigan teachers!!!  (I can't believe Nannini AND O'Bryan both teach 5th grade in Michigan like I do!  Maybe one day I will get to meet these teaching idols!!!)  Anyhow, I just bought Melissa's latest bundle, which will be PERFECT for my CCSS files!
        • Jennifer Findley is another TpT seller who has FILLED MY FILING CABINETS!  I just looked at "My Purchases" on TpT, and I have bought 13 products from Jennifer!  She has TONS of great CCSS math test-prep bundles that I have bought, but if we are talking about filling these files with CCSS sheets, here are some:


  • PROBLEM SOLVING STATION:  I got this idea from Terri Thornton.  I used her template, and tweaked it to meet my needs.  IT IS AWESOME!
    • PROBLEM SOLVING CALENDAR/CHART:  So, this is what my Problem Solving chart looks like.  There are 13 categories (A-M) which stay the same every week.  (i.e. Past, Present, Future, Money, Time, etc.) Ya know, all the skills that they come in not knowing...but should know... However, the problems I give are different.  So, each week I swap out the sentence strips in the pockets for new ones.  (I'm excited for next year because these are all done already now!!)
      • So, before school starts, just make sure to have the pocket charts and sentence strips.  
      • Then, print off labels with the A-M headings.  (You don't want to have to write that out each week!)  
      • Find a wall to put them on.  (I used the little 3-M hooks to mount the charts.)
      • I also used a Cricut to cut out the "PROBLEM SOLVING" heading.

    • PROBLEM SOLVING BOOKLET:  This is another material (like the Data Notebook) that EACH STUDENT receives.  I copy the COVER on card stock, and use a blank piece of card stock for the back cover.  Unlike the Data Notebooks, students keep this ONE PROBLEM SOLVING BOOKLET ALL YEAR LONG!  So, the card stock covers help with its longevity.  
      • Here is my COVER: 
      •  Then, the first few pages are REFERENCE PAGES.  I included images of the following:
        • Place Value Chart
        • Measurement Conversion Chart
        • Definitions (mean, median, mode, range, etc.)
        • Properties of Shapes
        • Etc.
          • Just put reference tools so that your students can figure out all the types of questions you use in your Problem Solving chart!
      • After the reference pages, I put Terri Thornton's PROBLEM SOLVING CALENDAR TEMPLATE pages copied 30 times back-to-back.  (The students fill in the questions each week... so it makes it easy to make the booklets!)  And that is it!  
      • Then, I just use the binding machine in our copy room, and they turn out like this:

      • The last thing to prepare for for the Problem Solving Station, is to make sure to have file folders of problem solving sheets for students to do if they finish early.  This is a great time for them to work on critical thinking, story problems, and number/logic riddles. We mount two file folders (tiered) under the chart.  Students know which file folder they grab from.  I also like to keep the answer keys in here so they can check their work.  That way, they realize it's about the learning and not just getting sheets done.  I don't really care if they finish every sheet if they got everything wrong!  Then, they just keep the sheets in their math data notebook folder (HANDOUTS SIDE) until the end of the unit.  If they get stumped on any, they can ask their group mates, and then if they are still stumped they bring their questions to their next focus lesson.

Need Math Workshop Lesson Plan Books, Standards Based Assessments, Standards Based Grade Books, and more?!  I have EVERYTHING YOU NEED right here:

WOW!  That was just a LOT!  I will give you a chance to digest all of that information.
If you want to learn more about Standards-Based Assessments, Grading, and Progress Tracking in the Math Workshop Structure, check out my "MATH WORKSHOP" tab OR go to this blog post.

I will be back soon with more information on HOW MATH WORKSHOP WORKS.  Here are some future Math Workshop topics I will address:
  • Focus Lessons (What to teach, and how to do it in only 20 minutes!)
  • Independent Practice (How to teach the "INDEPENDENT" part of INDEPENDENT practice!)
  • Technology Station & Expectations (How to hold students accountable on the internet; Motivation techniques; Teaching students how to troubleshoot)
  • Assessments & Math Workshop
  • Differentiation & Math Workshop
  • Accountability 
  • What I Learned the HARD WAY
***What do YOU want to know about?!  Post in the comments below!  I'll do my next blog posts based on any questions I see!!!***

As always...

~Keep Calm & Branke Bunch On~


  1. Wow! Thanks so much for all of this information! I love math workshop but you've got some great ideas for things I haven't tried :)

    Mrs. Plemons' Kindergarten

  2. I am impressed with how much you know about guided math / math workshop. Thank you for such a detailed tutorial on how to get started with math workshop in the classroom.
    Best wishes!

  3. Thank you for sharing all this great information on math workshops. I do not currently teach math, but I will pass on your tutorial to someone who does! Teaching Science With Lynda

  4. Jessica, Jen, & Lynda -- Thank YOU all so much!! I couldn't be more excited about math workshop! I'm so glad you found this helpful. Let me know if there are any more questions you have about workshop, and I'd be more than excited to answer them in my next post! ~Elyse :-)

  5. I was so excited to find your post for the You Oughta Know Blog Hop, I'm your newest follower. I've pinned you too!
    Fern Smith's Classroom Ideas!
    Fern Smith's Pinterest Boards!

  6. Awwwww THANK YOU, FERN!!! :-) You are AMAZING!

  7. Elyse this post is AMAZING! I can't wait to talk Math Workshop with you at the blogger meet up!! Thanks for the shout out too. I'm going to pin your post to my Math Workshop board and share it on my Wild About Fifth Grade facebook page. Every math teacher needs to read this post!!!!!

    Wild About Fifth

  8. I have just found your blog and let me tell you...YOU ARE AMAZING!!! I have taught a workshop model in my 3rd grade classroom but couldn't quite get it together in my new 6th grade classroom. Your blog has helped me TREMENDOUSLY! Thank you!