Pump Up Engagement with Math Circuit Training

November 9, 2018


Math Circuit Training, in many respects, resembles the "look and feel" of other self-contained and self-directed small group learning models such as centers or stations. The purpose is to diversify learning opportunities, gauge student understanding and/or misconceptions relating to the content, and promote collaborative learning. Similar to exercise circuit training, Math Circuit Training attempts to strengthen students' basic understanding of core math concepts, build endurance by tackling challenging problems with open-ended solutions, and maximize the level of cognitive complexity applied to real-world math reasoning. The biggest difference between Math Circuit Training and conventional math stations/centers is the intentional and strategic placement of learning activities that offer tiered levels of rigor associated with the targeted math skill or standard.


Through direct observation of hundreds of learning stations and centers across multiple grade levels, I have witnessed superb organization and execution of these self-paced learning environments, especially at the PreK-2 level. What is sometimes missing is the presence of a Challenge station or center that requires students to transfer what they have learned to a new situation involving open-ended solutions.


Math Circuit Training integrates the application of strategic and extended thinking, but also addresses the lower levels of cognitive complexity. The blueprint for a Math Circuit implementation roughly follows the same routine as a strength and conditioning program. The stages include:

  • Warm-up: 
    Warm-up activities involve getting students thinking or reviewing the core math skill or concept. Examples include review quizzes, graphic organizers, collect/display activities, and math games.

  • Moderate Lifting: 
    Moderate lifting activities require students to apply their learning to new situations such as solving non-routine math story problems or explaining a particular solution based on the targeted math concepts.

  • Heavy Lifting:
    Heavy lifting activities involve students applying their learning to unknown situations that are open-ended and possess a moderate to high level of authenticity. Problem-based learning opportunities and real-world simulations that are developmentally-appropriate for the age group require this type of heavy lifting.  

  • Cool-Down:
    Cool-down activities provide opportunities for students to revisit the math skill or concept in its purest, unadulterated state so that students can self-reflect on their learning and visualize how the skill or concept was used in different contexts and applications.

  • Reflection:
    Reflection activities prompt students to reflect on their thinking during the completion of the circuits. This allows them to think about what they know and what may still need clarification. Examples include Exit Tickets and personal reflection questions.


Using the Math Circuit Training model encourages students to take a math skill or concept and "run with it" by applying the skill or concept to new situations using different learning modalities, a vast array of instructional resources, and their interpersonal skills. Math circuits provide another way to differentiate learning among your students, raise the bar of cognitive complexity, and make one-on-one connections with your students through the strategic use of activity cards, markers, and the existing digital tools in your classroom.


Helpful Tips for Math Circuit Success 

Getting started with Math Circuit Training is easy, but involves additional considerations for a successful implementation. In Lindsey Perro's article, Three Rookie Mistakes – Middle School Math Stations, the author provides three preparation tips to ensure your math circuits are a hit with students.  

  1. Make sure your students have been thoroughly prepped for station work; not just yourself. Obviously, this points to the importance of gradual release when beginning station activities. 

  2. Avoid using stations as busy work; if you are using the Math Circuit Training model, this is a moot point.

  3. Know when to use stations and when not to. Do not make stations the go-to activity in class. They should be used strategically based on your rhythm of instruction, math pacing guide, and temperament of your students.




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