Home » Math Workshop (Part 1)

Math Workshop (Part 1)

This post will be the first in a series about how I run my Math Workshop.  There are just too many elements of balanced math to put in one post!

Tips and ideas for organizing your math workshop

Teaching in the Tongass is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. This post contains affiliate links.

So let’s just dive right in!

A couple of years ago, our district had a great professional development opportunity for teachers.  They contracted someone I consider to be pretty knowledgeable in the education field, Nancy Norman.  Among the many elements that make up a balanced math program, she focused on giving us several strategies for creating great “mathers.”  Although our district has now adopted Math in Focus as a program (last year was our first year), I continue to use several of the strategies I learned from Nancy (if you have ever worked with her, you know how awesome she is and can consider yourself one of the lucky ones).  I was lucky enough to be one of her lab teachers and learned so much from that experience (other teachers taking the course come and watch her/I teach a strategy in my classroom).  Thankfully, I learned to think for myself. I’ve come to understand that no matter what the publisher (or the contracted person representing the publisher) says their PRODUCT can do, trust that teacher instinct you know you have and include lots of different strategies in your instruction.  In my opinion, no curriculum program has it all and is perfect.  Teaching only using the 1 program you are given is like going to an all inclusive resort and not ever leaving during your stay. Yes, you go home and can now say you’ve been to that vacation destination, but did you really experience the place you visited?  Because most boxed curriculum lacks in the area of daily and differentiated fluency, as well as daily social knowledge review, I knew I needed to keep that in mind.

Math Binders

First, let’s talk logistics. My students keep their books and binders directly in their desks for quick access, but that’s just my preference. You can find the editable binder cover by signing up for my weekly newsletter below. Just type student names and print.

Math Binders

Each Math Binder includes a zipper pouch (for cards, dice, dry erase marker, etc.), math games, reference sheets and their math spiral review. Basically, everything they use for math goes into that binder. They keep them in their desks and I don’t send them home.

At the start of the school year, every student gets a few things that they’ll keep in their binder all year. We keep all loose sheet resources and games in page protectors.

I give them this Number Words reference sheet, as well as a copy of Coin War and coin war cards. This is the default game for my Sub lessons and whenever there is a need to keep them busy for a moment while I deal with an issue.

Coin War Free Math Game

This is what it looks like when they play. Sometimes I have them use a number line and game marker pieces to show where each amount on their card falls (this can be really helpful for some students that have trouble deciding which amount is greater).

Coin War Free Math Game

math fact fluency

One element that I use every day (and am a huge advocate of), is fact fluency.  Now, this may be a lengthy explanation, but stick with it.  Here’s how it works:

Roll and Write (Math Fact Fluency) Materials:
Some teachers use lined paper (notebooks) for students to do their fact fluency, but I have come to prefer these packets that I made.  I actually
like students to write in a lined notebook (is that crazy?), but for
some reason, this fits my brain better lately….The Roll and Write packet is stored in their Math Binder.

They pull out their Roll and Write, open it to a new page, write the date, and wait with pencils in the air (a management trick I started that keeps them from writing before the timer starts) for me to start the 5 minute timer. You can find the FREE math fact fluency packet by signing up for my weekly newsletter here:

math fact fluency

I love these yellow foam dice. We use both dot and digit dice (to differentiate, we begin with dot dice so students can count the dots when adding). If you have hard dice, you can invest in some pieces of felt for students to roll on (so it’s not too noisy), or you can use these PHENOMENAL foam dice. Best. Idea. Ever. You can find the 1-6 dot/digit dice here and the 1-6/6-12 digit dice here.

math fact fluency using dice

I’ve learned that not all timers are created equal. The timer I use is PERFECT for me because:
a.) it is big enough to see from the back of the room
b.) it has a light to make it stand out
c.) it gives a 1 minute warning
d.) it visually counts down by the second
e.) you can choose to have the audio (this one is a “beeper”) or not.

You can find it here.

math fact fluency using dice

Roll and Write Daily Fact Fluency Directions:
At the beginning of every year, I give explicit instructions on what Roll and Write should look/sound like. Students need to hold the dice in their hands, put their wrist down on their desk and open their palms.  I’ve discovered there is no reason to roll or shake the dice (sometimes kids like to shake dice for 30 seconds…time wasting). After the dice are rolled, they ARE NOT ALLOWED TO TOUCH THEM. For some reason, I’ve noticed lots of kids that like to adjust their dice and make them side by side or perfectly aligned so the number isn’t upside down.  Doing this each and every time adds up.  I demonstrate why we don’t roll dice, drop them from above, or waste time making them ‘look pretty’ (I make a show of it, dropping dice all over, acting silly…acting is such a big part of our job, isn’t it?).

math fact fluency using dice

After students have mastered how to quickly roll their dice, I start the timer and students get to work.  They roll and write, roll and write, roll and write.  While they are working, I roam the room with a RED pen (I know, I know, I’m a terrible person).  It could be a different color, as long as it isn’t the same as what they are using (a pencil).  If I spot ANY mistakes (number reversals, digit reversals, incorrect answers, sloppy writing, etc.), I underline the mistake with my red pen and WALK AWAY.  That part is really important.  Students need to be able to identify their own mistakes, and I’ve learned that if I stay there right next to them, they tend to argue or get in a discussion of “what I meant to write was a ….” instead of just fixing the problem.  As soon as I underline, students need to fix their mistakes.  This is really important as I don’t have time to look over each roll and write every day (repeat: they don’t turn this in to me, I don’t grade these), and I don’t want them practicing something incorrectly.

After the 5 minutes is up, the timer goes off and students get to finish the equation (and yes, that is the word we use) they are working on. Then, they count up all of the equations they were able to complete and write their total at the bottom of their page. Each student is working right where they should be at (i.e. they’ll all be working on different types of equations with dice that are right for them).  And because they’re working at their independent level, they should be getting at least 15 problems done in the 5 minutes.  If  a student wasn’t able to complete 15, I keep them in at recess and have them do it again for 5 minutes, but not as a punishment. Read: I do this so that I can watch to see if it’s something like they are wasting time adjusting dice or need a minilesson on a math facts addition strategy (for instance, how to “count on”).  At this point, I’ve discovered students will sometimes cheat and start writing on a previous day’s page to make it appear they have completed 30 that day. So, to combat that, I’ve added a “you must get the teacher’s initial at the top of the page the same day you get 30/30” rule.  That way, if they try to show me a 30/30 that isn’t signed from a previous date, I know they were combining two days of work. Also, we write the date in pen for the same reason.

Motivation plays a big factor in a successful Roll and Write implementation.  I sometimes use Matthew Cando (get it? Math-you-can-do!) as a motivator.  I got him at a district training a few years ago and the kids LOVE him.  He has a cute robot voice and likes to sit on the desk of someone who had a CAN-DO attitude during Roll & Write.

We also have a discussion about “not announcing your score” and how they are competing against themselves rather than their peers.  I want them to beat their best score and not worry about anyone else’s.  For the most part, this isn’t a problem after the first day.  On some occasions though, I have used competition to get a couple of students who were unfocused to get the job done. Worked like a charm for them (sometimes people just need a lil competition to get motivated).

When a student completes 3 days (does NOT have to be consecutive) of 30/30, I move them on to the next set of equation types on my checklist and write the date they started the new skill.  I put names in alphabetical order to make it easier to find them when updating their set.

math fact fluency using dice

Math Spiral Review

Another element of balanced math should be spiral review that’s done independently.  After students finish Roll & Write, they get out their review packets. Again, kept in their Math Binder. I use Drops in the Bucket (many teachers in my district do as well). I like that there isn’t a day (i.e. Monday) written on the page, which can be confusing if you’re asking them to do as much as they can and not worry about what “day” they’re on. I also like that they have different levels (in my 2nd grade class, I use levels A-C with various students). I personally like Drops in the Bucket because it has such an extensive selection of types of problems and I love that the different levels are really differentiated while the format stays the same (which is super helpful when students use it in the next grade level). I should mention that the company is NOT compensating me in any way (and they have no idea who I am for that matter) for promoting them, I just like their math resources that much 🙂

The idea behind this time is that it is REVIEW (not new learning) and students should be working INDEPENDENTLY.  That means, if a student doesn’t know how to do a problem, I do not use the packet to teach them.  That doesn’t mean I don’t help them with a minor issue they are stuck on, but if they are totally lost on a problem, I don’t sit down right then and there to show them how to do it: they skip it.  I will teach the concept later during a math minilesson or during Calendar time (this is a great way for me to see what things I need to add to my minilessons).  Basically, this means I don’t stand in front of my projector going through each problem with the whole class and using it to teach new skills/concepts.  Each student works at their own pace, and at their own level.  I use levels A, B, and C for just 2nd grade.  I set the timer for 5 minutes.

IMPORTANT: While students work, I roam around with that red pen I was just using during Roll and Write. I underline or circle mistakes and walk away so they have to figure out what they did wrong right away.  If a student reaches the bottom of the page before the 5 minute timer goes off, they TURN THE PAGE and keep working.  When they finish their whole packet, they turn it in so I can have a thorough look at it.  I correct any other mistakes I wasn’t able to catch during my roaming, and write which page numbers they need to fix on the front of the packet.  They might turn that packet in 2 more times before all of their corrections are done, but it doesn’t ever go home with uncorrected mistakes in it!

I store all of my Drops in the Bucket masters in binders for easier packet-copying.  Each packet has the level and range (Page numbers 1-20, 21-40 or 41-60) so when I give a student a packet, I can quickly see which one they are working on. You can grab the daily review packet covers I made by signing up for my newsletter below:

Hopefully, this post was clear on how I use math binders, what we do to practice daily math fact fluency and how I manage math spiral review. If you have any questions, or do something similar, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to comment below.

Pin for later:math

Ready for the second Math Workshop post? You can find it here.


  1. September 12, 2013 / 1:25 am

    I like the idea of roll and write. It sounds like fun. I like that it seems more like a game than work. I too use Drops in the Bucket. I use Daily Math Review for the first half of the year. The second half of the year is Drops in the Bucket. Also thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment on interactive notebooks. I can't wait to hear what others say about it. Thanks for sharing.


  2. June 5, 2015 / 10:39 pm

    I am a teacher of Year 1 children and wanting to revamp my maths program. I love all your ideas here but do which ones do you think would work successfully with Year 1 children please?
    Desperate for your advice and help!

    • June 6, 2015 / 5:22 am

      Hi Karen! I would actually say that all of these are applicable for 1st grade. Roll and Write is differentiated and begins with just basic addition, Coin War is counting coins, but you could begin with just identifying them and work your way to counting, and Drops in the Bucket Level A is perfect for 1st grade. I hope that helps!

  3. August 2, 2015 / 11:56 pm

    I love the math binder with the differentiation ready for each student — I am teaching 4th grade and our students are quite weak in both math and reading, so I was wondering how you decide which book to place students in. If a student's instructional level is 4th, should I start them off in Level B and then work through C and D as the year progresses? I definitely want to make sure the skills will be review. Do you use Drops in the Bucket for reading as well? Thanks 🙂

    • September 29, 2015 / 4:59 am

      Hi Mreen,
      Thank you! Each student starts off at the same level (Drops in the Bucket Level A) because the purpose is just to review. Students that find it easy move quickly through it and it gives me a chance to really make sure they know the material before assuming they can move to the next level. I hope that helps! I do not use the Reading one, but it looks great!

  4. August 2, 2015 / 11:58 pm

    oops — forgot to add my other question — you mention in the post about having the students complete their whole packet and then turn it in for a better review by you — how many pages do you give them at a time?

  5. September 29, 2015 / 4:04 am

    How long per day do you have fact fluency practice?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Join the newsletter today!


Subscribe and get this anchor chart and access to the FREE Resource Library!

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit