What are ECAM Centers?

Many of the schools our math consultants work in use the Early Childhood Assessment in Mathematics (ECAM), a research-based, comprehensive interview assessment tool (Board of Education of the City of New York, 2001; State Education Department).  Designed for students in academic, or chronological grades K-2 this assessment is conducted as a one-on-one interview, during which the child performs small mathematical tasks, and explains his/her thinking as s/he proceeds. 

In 2015 the ECAM Manual was revised. The updated manual includes an alignment of each interview question with the CCLS-M content standards and an extension of some questions to meet full alignment with the standards.

The ECAM centers on our website (see below) were developed out of a need to support teachers in effectively using ECAM data to differentiate instruction, with the primary goal being to improve all students' number sense.  While the 2015 version of the ECAM Manual contains only the Counting, Numeration, and Addition & Subtraction strands we have left the original Multiplication & Division Centers on the site for those schools still using the original version.

How do the Centers work?
After completion of the assessment interview the teacher interprets the findings and identifies the child's stage of learning for each area assessed. Based on the class data the teacher then selects a beginning focus area from the four strands assessed for Number (Counting, Numeration, Addition and Subtraction, Multiplication and Division). Students are grouped according to the stage they are at on the continuum for this particular area and center activities are selected accordingly.

Students work on ECAM Centers for 15 minutes, three days a week. They usually repeat the same center activity for 5-7 days, after which they switch to a different activity from the same stage on the continuum. This repetition of the same task plays a crucial role in the success of these centers. On the first day a center is introduced students are often focused on the rules, new materials, or ‘how to do’ the task. Repeating the activity several times allows students to engage with the math skills and concepts at a deeper level.

As students work in the centers the teacher observes individual students and takes conference notes. Particular note is taken as to the student's progress with the 'Next Steps' for the particular stage she is working on. If the teacher feels that the student has mastered a particular skill in the context of the center activity an exit slip may be given to see if the child can transfer the skill to a written context. Once the teacher feels that a student has demonstrated mastery of all 'next steps' she is moved to center activities aligned with the next stage on the continuum.

What is a Goals Chart?
An ancient Chinese proverb notes that no wind is favorable if one does not know to which port one is sailing. Setting goals can have a positive impact on student self-efficacy and achievement. Posting goals in the classroom serves as a visual reminder and help to keep students and teacher focused on the items that were identified as important. Goals give students a clear picture of what the expectations are as well as something to strive for. This is important because it helps to motivate students and also provides a sense of accomplishment when goals are reached. 

The following photographs show examples of class and individual ECAM goal charts from K-2 classrooms. On the class chart on the left students wrote their name on a post-it and placed it alongside their current goal. On the class chart in the center each students' name was written on a clothes peg and moved as goals were met and new ones set.

ECAM Goals Chart
ECAM Goals Char
ECAM Individual student goalIndividual Goals Chart

When is the best time to do these Centers?
In order for the centers to be effective it is important that you set aside a 15 minute block of time at least 3 times per week (use a timer to ensure that you do not go over the allocated time). This could be first thing in the morning when students enter the classroom, at the beginning of math workshop, or straight after lunch. Try to stick to the same time each day. This way ECAM Centers become part of the daily routine and you are less likely to skip them when things get busy.

How should I introduce new Centers?
When introducing the centers for the first time begin slowly. You may want to give the whole class the same activity for the first day or two so that you can focus on setting up the expectations for sharing materials, taking turns, packing up materials etc. Model new activities and role play how to solve possible problems that may arise without teacher assistance. After a few days introduce a second center and run two centers simultaneously for a day or two. Gradually build up the number of different centers that are running until all students are working in a group that is appropriate to their stage on the continuum.

When introducing a new round of ECAM activities have groups 2-4 repeat the activity from the previous day, while you introduce a new activity to Group 1. Next, move to Group 2 and introduce a new activity. The following day introduce a new activity to the remaining groups.

As with any new venture the first few weeks of ECAM Centers are the most difficult. By preparing materials in advance and taking the time to make students aware of expectations you will soon begin to see an improvement in the number sense of all students in your classroom.

Why do some of the centers have sentence frames?
In order to develop students’ mathematical language sentence frames have been developed for use with many of the center activities. These frames provide language support for ELL students and help to develop the math language of all students in a meaningful context. 

How can I organize ECAM Centers to run smoothly?
As ECAM Centers are only scheduled for 15 minutes a day it is crucial to have good structures in place to make the best use of this short period of time.

Math Center Organizatio
Math Center storag
Math Center dry erase pockets

A Pocket Chart can provide a simple management tool. Place Center names along the left side of the pocket chart with student names alongside each center so that students who have been absent (or those who just forget) can easily see which Center they are assigned to.

Task display stands are useful for keeping task instructions clean when you don't have time to laminate. Simply slip the task into the clear stand and place in a central spot so that all group members can read the instructions.

Having all the materials needed for a specific center activity in one heavy duty plastic bag or plastic envelope makes for a smoother start to ECAM Center sessions and makes pack-up time easier to manage. Bags can be stored on a stand or in baskets to ensure that they are easily accessible by students. Designating one student per group to collect and return materials can also help things to run smoothly.

Printing center activities on cardstock will extend the life of center activities and allow you to reuse them from one year to the next. Reusable dry erase pockets are another option. These are useful for protecting and extending the life of all center activities that involve the use of a game board, but are particularly useful for center activities in which students need to record on a game board or sheet of paper. Simply insert a game board and have students use a dry erase marker to write on the pocket. When the center activity is completed, the marker is wiped off the pocket and it ready to be used again. These pockets can save you from having to continually make photocopies of materials.