Math Explore-Investigate-Choice

My colleague Katie Keier, over at Catching Readers Before They Fall, has written a wonderful series of posts on Explore, a time for meaningful, rich play that is full of learning and teaching opportunities.

Katie’s post on  Literacy Explore, the term she uses for the independent practice time in which children are “engaged and playing in a literacy activity of their choosing” got me thinking about what that time looks like in my math workshop.

This year, as I went back to the classroom as a kindergarten teacher, I did a lot of thinking about the structure of my math workshop. I knew I needed  a structure that would ensure that 1) children were given lots of time for meaningful exploration, investigation, and play within the math workshop, 2) this time would be (eventually!) independent so that I could meet with small groups for Math Exchanges daily.

I’ve gone back and forth with the language I use  for this part of math workshop. “Math Explore,” “Math Investigations,” “Math Choices.” I still don’t know what feels right, or if what I call it is even important.  I do know, however, what it is that is happening during this time that is important to me.

1) Element of choice–Mathematicians of all ages should have the right to choose work that is important to them.

(Are these presents shorter/longer/the same length as the present boxes?)

2) Purpose–Every time I plan a station/investigation I ask myself, “What is the purpose behind this?” “What message am I sending about math and what it’s all about with this investigation?”

(Which containers hold the most/least water? How can you prove it?)

3) Balance of collaboration and working by oneself–I want my students to learn how to work/negotiate/play/collaborate with a partner or group, but I also want them to have time to reflect on their own. I want this for my own work. And I want it for theirs as well.

4) Balance of open exploration and guided task–room for open play, coming up with one’s own questions as well as time to work on a specific task that needs figuring out.

(Who has more on their cards? Who has less? How do you know?)

I end each workshop with a short reflection time. Sometimes I have focused, content-related questions. And sometimes I ask the open question, “How did you work as a mathematician today?”

12 thoughts on “Math Explore-Investigate-Choice

  1. Great post, Kassia! You always push me with what I can do in the classroom to further my students’ ability and thinking in math. I really liked your card centre. What did you do to ensure that the students had good “math talk?” Do you post prompts for them to use? Are you the one that’s going around to ask them questions?

    Thanks for the help!

  2. Thanks for this post, Kassia. I am really thinking through all of these types of questions as I try to transition to a math workshop. I do have some structures that I can’t change (at least not yet – maybe this will change soon) but you are leading me in the right direction. Thanks for continuing to nudge me forward.


    1. Thanks for your comment, Jill. I understand that figuring out the structure can be difficult. It’s something I’m always returning to thinking about. And I don’t think there is a “best way.” I think as long as you’re being responsive to your students and being reflective (which you certainly are) you’re on the right path. That’s my hope for myself at least.

  3. In the beginning of the year, when you first start the Math Explore time, do you limit it to a shorter time, or just familiar activities? How do you teach the purpose of the Math Explore time to the students? Is it just that the activities are inherently interesting and engage their math sense?
    How do you start?

    1. Hi Peggy—
      All questions I ask myself–every year and all year!

      We start with exploration of materials with few expectations, just questions, invitations.

      We do a lot of talk about how/when to change stations, why you should stay some place for a while, and eventually the idea of finishing a “job.”

      Of course, it’s always a work in progress. But I find in general if the work/play is authentic and meaningful to them, they engage, and if not, they wander. So, it’s a good measure for me.

      You should come in sometime—you’re so reflective, I’d love your thoughts!

  4. And…what is the range of exposure the children like to have to the activities before they no longer choose them, two-four times or longer?

    1. It really depends. It depends how they respond to it. Some investigations stay a long time—they keep getting new ideas from it. And then sometimes something I think will be wonderful is a flop, and I let it go, and move on. If they are still interested, it stays.

  5. The practices you are using are wonderful to allow children the time and experience they need to work with concepts. I use similar strategies in my classroom for first grade in all subject areas including math and science. I set up learning stations to foster cross curricular connections. This give me the opportunity to work with students one on one, in small groups, and guide specific investigations.
    I begin the year with groups in shorter periods of time and less options within each station. As the year progresses and students are familiar with expectations I add to and change out the tasks. Each year can be different according to the mix of students and their needs/abilities. I reflect often and change, add, or delete as I go.
    It is kind of like a scientific orchestra! I observe, interact, and respond to the needs of the learners so that they can progress to the next level, be given different experiences, or explore more in-depth. It is truly magical to watch!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Julie. I love your orchestra analogy.

      I’d love to hear more about how you use these practices in science in your classroom. I’m still working my way there in that subject area.


  6. Thank you so much for sharing this very useful and important knowledge with us. The ideas and “labs” the children get to become involved in are great. I am currently taking classes to become licensed in early childhood and elementary education and I am always looking for new ideas to share to my class about integration. I am definitely going to share your ideas with my classmates and hopefully be able to implement them into my own classroom some day. Through my experience with working with young children, I know they would love these activities especially since they can relate to them. From observations I have made I have noticed that children like to participate more in activities that they can relate to their own lives as well as activities that the teacher is excited and enthusiastic about. I also really like how you included real photographs; it really brings the activities to life and makes it a lot more realistic to me being able to use these with my own students in my own classroom someday 🙂 Thanks again, I can’t wait to implement these integrated activities.

  7. I enjoyed finding out about how you implement a math workshop in your classroom. This is something that I am very passionate about! I have learned that by creating a math workshop, similar to that of a reading workshop, it totally changed my attitude about math, but more importantly, my students’ attitudes towards math.
    I used to teach Math whole group, every child working on the same activity at the same time, and we would play a game here or there. I also must admit that I DREADED teaching math. However, I was fortunate to be able to work with a very talented Math teacher in Maryland a few years ago, and she allowed me to completely view Math in a different way. She introduced a Guided-Math approach to me, and I have been taking on this approach every since.
    Like you, I also teach math in small groups, and the students have the opportunities to complete activities/games, and communicate with their peers. I think math discourse is so important, even at the primary level. I love to see how students solve the same problem, but in various ways. I wonder why we continue to hear about literacy workshops, but a math workshop approach is not as common?
    I will admit that initially, it took some getting used to, and I do think it requires more planning and preparation on the teacher’s part. However, it is totally worth it! My students are more engaged and Math has become my favorite subject to teach. I have always taught first grade, but this year I will be teaching third grade. I am planning to continue to implement a math workshop approach with my third graders as well.

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