3 Ways To Challenge Your Advanced Students During Math Workshop

Your math block is likely a time of day when your advanced learners stand out like a sore thumb if you don’t have the resources to keep their brains stimulated. Often times, these learners become disinterested or disengaged because they are bogged down with busy work when they meet expectations and demonstrate mastery early on in a unit. At times this can result in a subject where they demonstrate great talent and ability becoming a student’s least favorite time of the school day. 

Core Inspiration problem solving task card and recording sheet laying on desk with pencil and highlighter.

Keeping advanced math minds genuinely engaged requires us as teachers to create an environment where being “done” is not a focal point. Instead, structure your learning block in a way that the entire spectrum of learners has more options than they can possibly complete, and a deep variety of learning activities to demonstrate their understanding each day. 

After you’ve built a strong collection of learning activities, create routines and expectations so students can easily navigate through their learning options each day.

Three resources that can help you achieve this goal are differentiated problem solving tasks, project based learning units, and differentiated math game cards.

Problem Solving Task Cards

These in-depth problem solving tasks require students to exercise rigorous problem solving skills as they analyze multi-step word problems, model their math reasoning in multiple ways, and communicate their solution and problem solving process in complete sentences. 

Providing multiple task cards for students to choose from gives them more ownership of their learning journey as they select which task they are interested in solving each day. Using these tasks can be especially engaging for advanced learners if you provide them with challenge task options in addition to the already-rigorous making meaning tasks described above. 

Core Inspiration Third Grade Math Workshop Task Card Board

Challenge tasks require students to apply the grade-level skills introduced during your lessons each day, and apply that knowledge to unlock more complex content without direct instruction. Advanced learners find this self-directed learning option highly engaging and enjoy collaborating with peers as they build their own deeper understanding. 

Routine problem solving analysis, detailed modeling, written communication practice, self-directed learning opportunities, and tasks that foster collaboration between young mathematicians. Doesn’t that sound a lot more enticing than another worksheet filled with more math problems that build surface-level understanding?

Core Inspiration problem solving challenge task sign next to challenging math problem solving task for third grade and sample recording sheet with model and math reasoning written in complete sentences.
How It Can Look In Your Classroom:
  • Teach your whole class math mini lesson each day. 
  • During the At Your Seat rotation/ independent station:
    • All students complete a short set of problems that allow them to demonstrate understanding of the skills introduced during today’s lesson. 
    • All students check their problem set for accuracy. 
    • All students select a problem solving task from your collection of tasks aligned to the lessons for that week. 
  • Schedule time every couple days to meet with your advanced learners, and check in on their progress through making meaning or challenge tasks. These small group sessions are also a perfect opportunity to model expectations for detailed written math solutions and explanations of reasoning. 

For more information about the exact routine I use to integrate problem solving task cards into our Math Workshop block, read this post

Project Based Learning 

Imagine you’ve given your pre-assessment and, right off the bat, you have students who demonstrate mastery of the standards you are planning to teach. It happens in almost every classroom. You may consider having these students work on a project rather than completing routine daily math activities. 

Students who enjoy exercising their creativity, using long-term time management, interacting with their learning, and using their imagination will be especially engaged by this enrichment option. The challenge with having a few advanced learners working through an enrichment project while you guide the rest of the class toward mastery is the management of two very different types of learning taking place simultaneously during one learning block. 

To make this challenge more manageable, search for, or create project instructions and guides that are so detailed it’s as if you are sitting alongside your student each step of the way. These detailed guides will give your advanced learners the opportunity to build their reading comprehension and direction-following skills while applying their math skills to real-world scenarios. 

Core Inspiration project based learning student guide for telling time unit next to clock manipulative and student project pages.

Writing step-by-step project guides is a time consuming process, so you can check out this collection for ready-made options. For more details about how to plan and write this type of project based learning unit, read this post

How It Can Look In Your Classroom:
  • Create a pacing schedule for students who will work on your enrichment project. 
  • Teach your whole class math mini lesson each day. 
  • During the At Your Seat rotation/ independent station, students who demonstrated mastery on your pre-assessment progress through their project based learning unit while students still working to achieve mastery complete a short problem solving set and task cards. 
  • Schedule time every couple days to meet with your advanced learners and check in on their progress toward reaching project checkpoints. These small group sessions are also a perfect opportunity to model expectations for project quality. 

Differentiated Game Play

Some of your advanced learners enjoy strengthening their understanding of math concepts through game play. To ensure play sessions are exciting for them, be sure to create or curate math games that have options for more challenging levels of play. 

Core Inspiration math in motion hands on math game card with challenge option for math game makes differentiating games for advanced learners easy.

Providing instructions for boosting the level of play right alongside the other game instructions makes is easy for all students to make the transition to a more advanced game version seamlessly. This will also save you time as a teacher because it allows you to teach the game to the entire class together, rather than taking the time to introduce different games to different groups of learners. For a year-long set of games that is already written in this format, check out my Hands-On Math Games.

How It Can Look In Your Classroom:
  • Teach your whole class math mini lesson each day. 
  • When students visit the game station during your learning block, they have the option to play the basic or advanced version of each math game. 

Are You Ready To Challenge Your Advanced Learners?

Are you ready to make math exciting for your advanced learners? You can completely transform their enthusiasm for math by incorporating one or all of the activities outlined above. Your classroom can be a place where young mathematicians look forward to math each day, and are fully engaged in learning activities that exercise and expand their minds in ways that feel creative and fun. Comment below with the any questions you have about differentiated for advanced learners.


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4 Responses

  1. I purchased your task cards, and I would love to create a display like the one you have listed in the example. Do you also have the TASK CARDS, CHALLENGE CARDS, and MAKING MEANING CARDS displays for download as well? Thanks!

I’m Laura Santos

I’ve been an elementary teacher for ten years, and love sharing tips and resources that make differentiated learning more manageable for you. Thank you for visiting.

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