George Lucas Educational Foundation
New Teachers

The Benefits of Using Choice Boards in Math

How math choice boards can enable new elementary teachers to meet the needs of their individual learners while employing mathematical rigor.

April 4, 2023
HRAUN / iStock

Math instruction can be challenging for new elementary teachers due to the complex nature of the subject, the wide range of student abilities in their classrooms, and the limited time and resources available for instruction. As STEAM professional development specialists, we support our colleagues with math choice boards to create a dynamic and inclusive learning environment that encourages creativity, critical thinking, and independence. Math choice boards also support a range of abilities that can help new teachers to promote Mathematical Rigor.

Choice boards typically include a range of activities that students can choose from based on their individual interests and ability levels. To support our colleagues, we often go into their classes to model and launch the use of choice boards. We’ve put together a 10-step routine to ensure teacher and student success.

How to set up your choice board

1. Define learning standards and outcomes. Start by defining the specific math standards that you want your students to learn, and identify learning outcomes you want to achieve. A rule of thumb for us is, we always want math thinkers.  

2. Create a list of activities. You can use our Teacher’s Choice Board to brainstorm a list of math activities that align with the learning outcomes you’ve defined and that are worthwhile tasks. Consider a variety of activities that cater to different ability levels. For example, you might include activities such as solving math problems, playing math games, or creating a math project. 

If you’re looking for a more comprehensive resource, you can use our Choice Board Resource Guide, which has both descriptions of Big Idea categories and suggested use for Open Source Materials. The Choice Board Resource Guide will support you in choosing “just right” worthwhile tasks for your students. 

3. Design the choice board. You can use our Student Choice Board Template, with anchor charts, to inspire your creation of a physical or virtual model for students to interact with. It should be displayed with the different activities that students can choose from. Organize the activities into categories or sections that align with the learning outcomes you’ve identified. Include clear instructions, and any necessary resources or materials, for each activity.

4. Provide clear expectations. Clearly communicate your expectations for the choice board. Explain how many activities students should complete, how long they have to complete them, and how the work will be graded or assessed.

5. Model the process. Demonstrate how to use the choice board and complete the activities yourself. Then have the students practice the activities while you monitor them. This will help them understand the expectations and feel more confident in their ability to complete the work.

6. Set goals and monitor student progress. You can use our Setting Goals Template to check in with students regularly to monitor their progress and provide feedback. Encourage them to share their work with their classmates, either in person or through digital platforms.

7. Reflect and adjust. Reflect on the process and the outcomes. Consider what worked well and what could be improved. Use this feedback to adjust the activities and the design of the choice board for future use.

8. Offer support. Provide support and guidance as needed. Encourage students to ask questions if they’re unsure about how to complete an activity. Offer suggestions and feedback to help them stay on track. 

9. Encourage creativity. Emphasize the importance of creativity and independent thinking. Encourage students to explore different activities and come up with their own ideas for how to engage with the math concepts.

10. Celebrate success. Celebrate students’ success and acknowledge their hard work. Provide opportunities for students to share their work with the class or with their families.

Employing math choice boards can be a very effective teaching strategy, but it’s essential to choose the right activities that can be differentiated while addressing  conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, and application. All three aspects, conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, and application, are interconnected. It’s important to layer these three aspects of rigor, rather than teach them in isolation, because they build on one another to create a complete understanding of mathematics.

Without conceptual understanding, students will struggle to understand how to apply mathematical concepts in real-world situations. Without procedural fluency, students will have difficulty performing calculations quickly and accurately. Without the ability to apply mathematical concepts, students will struggle to see the relevance of mathematics in their lives. For this reason, the intentionality of the tasks we put in front of our students is just as valuable as giving students a choice for engagement. We don’t want our students doing busywork. We want to use tasks to layer the elements of math rigor to ensure a high level of cognitive demand.

Math choice boards are a powerful tool for new elementary teachers because they increase student engagement, ownership, and rigor in math education. By providing students with a menu of activities that align with standards and outcomes, math choice boards allow students to take charge of their learning, choose the activities that appeal to them the most, and work at their own pace. 

Math choice boards can also foster a sense of community in the classroom as students collaborate and share their work with each other. Additionally, incorporating math rigor into choice board activities can challenge students to think deeply and critically about math concepts and develop problem-solving skills. Ultimately, math choice boards are a valuable curricular tool for any new teacher to help create a classroom culture that values exploration, creativity, and mathematical thinking. 

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  • New Teachers
  • Differentiated Instruction
  • Math
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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