Set up and maintain a computer center in your classroom to support your math teaching. Let me show you how to set up a year-long center that is differentiated, open-ended and easy to maintain.
If you want to have a computer center in your classroom, go for it!
Let's talk about why you would want a computer center for math, challenges you might face in getting started, what you need, how it works, how to use free online games and tips to make it all run smoothly.
Why a computer center for math?
The reason I created a computer center to use during our math time is that I teach math using a small-group approach. That means, when I am working with students in the teacher zone, I have students working independently.
The computer center, or the technology zone as I like to call it, is a place for my kinders to practice math skills using free websites.
Students are usually pretty motivated to use the computers which means they are engaged during their independent working time. Annnnd they are using headphones which usually means a few more quiet bodies, allowing everyone to stay better focused.
You may face some obstacles and challenges in setting it up as I did, but hopefully, these ideas can help you overcome those challenges and get your center up and running.
Before I explain how to set up this center, let me preface by saying that I began using center this before I had the technology within my classroom for a small group (of up to 6 students).
Literally - I had one computer in my classroom. My teacher computer.
That was tricky but we made it work by using other resources. We brought in parent volunteers to support a small group of students at a time (working in a small section of the computer lab) when we didn't have classroom computers.
Eventually, I partnered up with our school technology teacher to beg local businesses for used laptops. And it worked. My principal was ready to sign-off on it all since I had a very specific plan in mind.
Let me also preface that I did not teach in a Title 1 school. We received no cash in order to provide a subscription for any programs for my students
That meant I had to create my own if I wanted standards-specific material. I didn't just want students playing random games on one site hoping they'd be working on a skill related to what we were learning.
Now, if you can purchase a math program, I highly recommend DreamBox. It works perfectly for a system like math zones and is wonderful in both teaching and tracking student progress. I piloted it once and it was awesome!
Since I didn't have that option - I created my own and now you can purchase those too to make it happen in your classroom.
Or, if you want to set up your own links to games in a kindergarten-friendly way, I've got your back with a template for that too.
What you need
If you want to set up a computer center, I recommend these things:
- Desktop computers and monitors
- Sturdy headphones (for each computer)
- Access to the internet and school network
- Headphone splitters (if you have two students share computers due to space or budget limits)
And you'll need standards-based material that the students will work on while at this center.
How it works
Students are introduced to some math games and are taught how to navigate through free online games that practice specific math skills.
Then while assigned to this center, they play the games in the order set by the teacher.
They use the computer, headphones and mouse (or touch-screens) to complete activities and tasks.
They continue working until it's time to clean-up.
It's simple and it works.
Online games for math center
Let's look at how I used online games to make it easy to maintain this math center all year long and then get into some tips to help you run yours.
- I picked all of my favorite online math games that are free and don't require students to login.
- I planned out how to differentiate the pacing of them in order to meet the needs of most of my students.
- I put them all into an easy-to-navigate PDF with clickable links.
Want to know how it works?
You introduce the games quickly as a mini-lesson. Students work on those games for two weeks. (In our classroom center rotation that they would play that set of games four times over two weeks)
You post which week of content they should be working on and they click on the matching page.
Then they click a button to go to their level and then play the games in order.
How is it differentiated?
We all have the accelerated, on target and students that need additional support... so there is a page of games for each level, for each set of weeks.
I use these one-star, two-star and three-star labels to help me create levels and differentiate all kinds of math games and activities.
More stars equals more support needed.
In my class, it usually worked out to have one group of one-stars, one group of three-stars and two groups of two-stars.
So those games linked to each level meant they were playing games that were at a pace and level more tailored to them.
Why I love it
The whole PDF I made works kinda like a website. It's really easy for kids to navigate and doesn't take too long to teach.
Each page of games is simply a beautifully numbered list that students click on to play in order.
So I introduce any new games (usually just how to navigate the website or to introduce the task if the website has limited audio directions) to students going to this center.
This makes maintaining the center all year long easy to do.
The games are set up. I just have to introduce any new content or website navigation in a mini-lesson. Often, my entire class watches this as it only takes a few minutes every two weeks.
What do they do if they finish early?
Well, first let me share that I teach them how to play the games, not to skip around and really dig deep and sometimes play games multiple times. Because the content is usually right on their level they are pretty good about staying on task.
But, I'm a big believer that you should structure your classroom activities to not ever have "fast finishers."
So, with this computer center, I think it's important to make it as open-ended as possible.
When students have completed the games on their page, there is a set of math videos that they watch and learn.
They can also go back to their page of games and play them again if they prefer.
Will it work on my computers?
I would only recommend the computer math center I created for desktops and laptops. I DON'T recommend this for Chromebooks or iPads.
DreamBox, on the other hand, will work on any device, I think.
You can put it on your classroom computers using something like dropbox or on your school's network. That way if you need to update the file it automatically updates on every computer.
Tips to run a smooth math center when computers are involved
No matter what material you choose to get started, here are some things to help you get up and running.
- Model completing the lesson page (with more explicit instruction at the beginning of the school year) in small groups whenever possible
- Model what the ending of activity looks like so students know when they're expected to exit (eventually many sites will become familiar and they will not need as much direction)
- Set the expectations that students: 1) get started right away 2) keep working until the time is up
- Use headphones and teach students how loud they sound when they think they are talking at a normal level wearing them. They'll find this quite humorous to see you demonstrate.
- Pick a few students who are tech-saavy to call on to go help others when minor-technology snafus happen so you can stay focused on your small group teaching (whenever possible)
- When students ask for help, reply with, "What makes good sense?" or "What did you try?, "What else can you try?" or "Show me what you tried."
There you have it. I think it's worth it to have a computer center set up in your classroom so your students can do math without you!
Remember these tips as you go to set up and maintain your computer math center in your classroom.
Use it all year, have it differentiated, make it open-ended and make it easy to maintain.
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