Hands On Math Centers In The Special Education Classroom

Having multiple math centers running at the same time IS POSSIBLE in the special education classroom... even with moderate to severe populations! Here are some ideas to help get you started.

An important part of guided math is practice and review of introduced skills. This is the second post of Smashing Strategies for Guided Math, a monthly-link up between 9 teacher bloggers! Each of us will share a guided math strategies, tips and resources. Last month's post was about Small Group Math Instruction.

Once you have introduced a new skill (or reviewed an previously taught skill), it is time to have students practice. My students need LOTS of practice in order to learn and master skills. They also struggle with generalization, so I need to make sure they have many opportunities to practice the skills using different materials, in different parts of the room and across people & day. Math centers are one of the ways I work on that.

Most of my students need one on one instruction for brand new skills. I often do this during work centers which is my direct instruction time. Here are some examples of how we run math centers:

I like to schedule 2 to 3 centers at the same time. Since my students are at varying levels, our centers are often targeting different skills. Unlike regular education classrooms, I have to have an adult at each center. I teach a moderate to severe classroom, so my students are not able to appropriately participate in a math center task without some support or monitoring. Here are examples of tasks we do during the math centers.

Number concepts tasks are used a lot in my classroom. I really like this one because it teaches students to recognize numbers no matter how they are written. It is such an easy center, but you can do a lot with it. You can easily add a sensory component by hiding the number cards in the sensory bin. Add motor movement by hiding the numbers around the classroom or center area and have students find them before sorting. Lots of great options!

For number identification... on top of the sensory and motor movement components listed above, you can also add in a listening comprehension component. For example, have the staff dictate which number to match next. Another option would be to have one student have all of the number cards and the second student have the matching mat. The student with the mat has to ask his peer for the numbers and then the peer has to attend and respond to the friend.  

The picture below is an example of a super easy hands on number sequencing center. You can color code so each student is using different colored blocks or make it more difficult by hiding the blocks in a block sensory bin.

Comparing numbers is a prerequisite skill for many higher level math skills. It can also be a really challenging skill for students in special education because it involves language concepts. We use these build and compare mats to practice number identification, making sets and comparing numbers. We have the adult at the center model the language and then prompt (don't forget to fade the prompts) the students to use the same language until they start to get it. After building the towers below, the staff might say, "Four is bigger than 3." or "Three is smaller than 4." We do this center multiple times and work on varying the language so it isn't just rote. 

For addition and subtraction we have center tasks that can be used by all of my students even if they aren't yet writers. 

The sensory and motor movement components listed above for number concepts can also be used with this subtraction sorting center.

The Adding Coins Math Center is great for building functional math skills. We have 2 activities going on at this center. Students are using dry erase markers to write the sums on the adding coins task cards while other students are using plastic coins to add coins to the sum in a different way. On another day, have students use real coins to make the sums... generalization!

All of these math centers (and more) come from our Math Units Bundle. Each unit is full of hands on tasks that we use in our math centers. My students don't learn well from worksheets, so instead you will find task cards, visuals, hands on instructional materials, etc. 

Tips for running successful math centers in special ed. 

1.) Teach the students EXACTLY how to use the materials before letting them begin the center. This is when you want to model the language you want them to use, the care you want them to use with the materials, etc.

2.) Keep data sheets or recording sheets at each center for the staff to jot down student progress.

3.) Train your staff on how to modify or prompt students who are struggling with the math center.

4.) Have a plan to reteach students anything they struggled with during the math centers.

5.) If you don't have enough (or any!) paras, create math centers that therapists can help with. For example, the SLP can run the comparing numbers center and focus on the language piece. The OT can do sensory based number concepts center, too. Be creative!

I hope this has helped spark some ways you can implement math centers in your classroom. Be sure to scroll down to see the other guided math posts for this month.

More smashing strategies for guided math:

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