I've never done real centers before. In my first two schools, such things were forbidden. In my last school, what I called centers was a time when students could choose from a vast array of educational things (including games, a microscope, etc.). But I never did actual centers of any kind.
At the end of last year, it was decided that we would have a math enrichment day weekly, or at least within each math unit. One of the reasons was that it wasn't long before we stopped using manipulatives. The program seemed to require the manipulatives for one introductory problem, or two on a good day, and that was it. However, there was also the time spent getting them out, passing them out, getting the students to return to being on-task, collecting them, etc. The time spent on the busy-ness was double the time spent on using the learning tools, and a huge segment of our math period had been sucked away.
Since tomorrow is our first math test (Topic One), I had to come up with a reasonable enrichment thing to do. Last Friday the students became adept at counting the play money and making the amount shown on the card, so that wasn't a need. What I came up with for today was five centers. The centers did not take the same amount of time, and students might not be finished with one before they were moved to another, but they could return to the unfinished one when they had the time.
One was 2-minute addition flash cards. Yes, we're fourth grade. Trust me on this, though. The timer was set for two minutes, and one student showed the other the flash cards. That second student collected every correctly answered card. At the end of the two minutes, they wrote down (on the back of their answer sheet) how many they got right. Then they switched jobs.
The "equality" center used the timer for six minutes. One student could place no more than five of the number blocks in the left side of the math program's e-tools component. The partner had to use at least one different block, and add blocks until the equal sign in the middle showed that the two sides matched. Then they switched roles.
In the making change center, students had problems on the front of their answer sheet such as "change for $3.25 from $10.00." The skill in our text is counting up to make change, and we had already done that lesson. However, it was better to show them with play money that they could touch and move around. After they made the change and wrote it down, their partner had to prove the answer was right by adding the original amount of money ($3.25) and coming up with the correct total ($10.00). This was one of the two centers that had room for many people to work at the same time. Students might be pulled from here to work on a quicker center and then returned. (Otherwise, no one would ever get to the quick ones until suddenly half the class was ready for them!)
In the expanded notation center, students used the number blocks (like the virtual ones in the equality center) to create the numbers on the answer sheet. Then they simply spread them out by category and wrote the number in expanded notation. This made expanded notation so much easier for them to understand, especially with the issues of zeroes within numbers.
Finally, there was the flip-chart center. Students dragged numbers into various place value columns to create 4-digit numbers. They did this on my laptop. Then they sat where they could see the Promethean Board, and wrote out three of their numbers (most made 5) in written form on the back of their answer sheets.
All of these were skills that the students needed to review for tomorrow's Topic One test. At the end, I had the students do a quick write on sticky notes about how it went for them. More than a few thought making change was hard. Some thought most of it was easy. They all enjoyed being able to go from center to center, though, and the hands-on activities. I'm not sure how well Topic Two will lend itself to this, though. It's adding and subtracting whole numbers, including mental math and estimating sums and differences.
Have you done centers? Any words of advice? Ideas for Topic Two?