Author Archives: Scott Nielsen

There’s Always That One Kid

This blog is related to a multi-part series titled “Creating Centers in the Classroom.” If you have missed that series, you can read part 1 HERE, part 2 HERE, part 3 HERE, part 4 HERE, and part 5 HERE.

You are ready!! You’ve planned your centers and are excited about differentiating them based on student needs; you are eager to watch what students do and learn about their understanding. It is going to be a great day of math in your classroom.

Then that kid walks in the door. The one that has you considering retirement at age 37. Before they have made it to their seat they have pushed someone, yelled a cuss word, pulled someone’s hair, and knocked over your coffee cup (“Not my coffee!”). Now they stand in front of you with that “what did I do?” look and a T-shirt that says Mommy’s Little Monster. There is always that kid. And increasingly we are lucky if we only have one of those kids in our classes.

Can you still run your centers? Should you even try? What do you do about that? That is a genuine question for you. What do you do when you have one or more students who disrupt your plans for the class and take learning experiences away from other children? Here are a few ideas to start.

Rotate Centers Instead of Children

With disruptive children, every step they take is a potential incident. Try keeping the materials for your centers in tubs and have the tubs move instead of the student groups. A designated helper can quickly deliver the tubs to the next groups which makes the transition faster and eliminates a lot of potential problems.

This Isn’t Your House

We want students to feel at home in our classrooms, but their idea of home might not be the same as ours. Explicit clarification can help. I witnessed a teacher effectively do this with a disruptive student. She calmly told the student, “This isn’t your house. We don’t do that here. Instead we…” The child quickly changed behaviors. We have to remember that our students are learning math AND social/emotion navigation. Heck, aren’t we all? The more clear we are about what is acceptable, the safer and more at home students will feel.

Student Choice

Disruptions are often a power struggle. One way to end the struggle is to give up a little power. Give disruptive students a choice. For example: “You can either work with your group, or you can work alone near me.” This isn’t a threat because neither is a punishment. The child is given power to choose where they feel most comfortable working, which can promote self-awareness and autonomy. If they are still disruptive, let them know that their actions have decided for them and they move to the other location. There are no automatic answers. Each child’s behaviors and needs are different, and there is not enough space in this blog to cover everything. I just want to acknowledge that we at the AIMS Center know these struggles exist and are committed to working together with teachers in all aspects of math education.

Please keep the discussion going by sharing what has worked (or failed) for you, or share any resources like this one that you have found helpful.


Fluency and the Dancing Queen

In 1974 the Swedish pop group ABBA had their first hit with a tune called Waterloo. While the song is written and performed in English, only two of the group spoke English at the time. The two female singers (and the two A’s in the group’s name), Agnetha and Anni-Frid, had very little understanding or… Continue Reading

Why Teach Using Centers?

Have you ever seen a fellow teacher running math centers and wondered how they could pull it off? I used to think that if I tried, chaos would erupt all over the room and it would end in disaster. This past spring I was able to run some math centers in a first-grade classroom. It… Continue Reading

It CAN Be Done!

Here they came. As I sat at the kidney table in a first-grade classroom I began to sweat a little. I had just called over a small group of students. They were coming, including Lincoln (pseudonym). This boy had been challenging me since I began working with him. He sought attention, but never for positive… Continue Reading

Mr. Miyagi Should Not Teach Math

“Wax on! Wax off!” Most people can identify these words as being from the classic 80s movie “Karate Kid”. In the film, Daniel, a karate student, is told his lessons will involve waxing a car. This makes no sense to him, but he follows instructions. Following this “lesson” are others involving painting the fence, sanding… Continue Reading

Using Tools

Teachers use a lot of tools. We use physical tools like copy machines, scissors, and staplers. We also use educational tools like math manipulatives, websites, textbooks, and assessments. Recently, I had an experience with a tool which was new to me and I would like to share some thoughts about that experience. At the AIMS… Continue Reading

Math is NOT Beautiful

People who are seen as mathematicians are famous for uttering this line all the time, “mathematics is beautiful.” Whenever someone says this, some people nod in agreement, while still others nearby are probably wishing they saw the same beauty in math. I would like to take a moment to analyze this statement and, ultimately, refute… Continue Reading

Encouraging a Playful Spirit

It is difficult to open any kind of math publication lately without seeing the word “play.” It seems like everyone in the math-twitter-blog-o-sphere can’t say enough about the value of allowing children to play in the classroom. Indeed, the power of play in children’s development is undeniable. However, I can’t help but wonder if a… Continue Reading

Do Teachers Really Teach?

Picture a beach along California’s beautiful coast with sand, sun, and a light breeze. Waves crash with regularity. Now imagine that one particular wave comes higher up the beach and splashes into a collection of driftwood. The effect of the wave on the wood depends on the wood’s weight, shape, and size. In short, the… Continue Reading