One of the great things about the Next Generation Science Standards is the shift to focus on what students can do! I truly believe this shift forces us as teachers to put more ownership into students hands. They are the ones working in the classroom. We are there to facilitate. Using classroom stations is a perfect way to do that.
I’ve found that classroom stations are a great way to engage students in the types of activities that support the NGSS, and they are perfect for the 5E Model. Both my students and I benefited when I switched to station work. Why?
Why are Classroom stations central to my classroom Routine?
Classroom stations provide opportunities for students to work collaboratively with other students, exploring new concepts and making sense of their ideas. Students can develop their own ideas while learning from others.
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Students want to talk anyway. How many of you have wasted minutes or breath trying to get a class to quiet down so you could teach? With stations, you don’t have to. Yes, there will be times you will need their attention as a whole (although I tried to limit myself to 5-10 minute increments). That said, the majority of class is spent in learning activities that allow students to interact and socialize as they are learning. You no longer have to fight the “quiet down now” battle. Teaching in a chatty urban school, I can tell you – this drastically reduced my stress levels and made my classes so much more enjoyable!
Classroom stations allow students to work at their own pace. Stations can be a way to differentiate for your quick and slow learners. Quick learners can move quickly through the stations and required tasks, while slower learners can take their time completing their work. It is important to fill the gap for your quick finishers though. You can provide time for silent reading, extension activities, or ongoing projects (20% time?). Your slower learners will have time to actually explore the content and build their understanding – instead of simply “running out of time” and being given the answer during review.
You have built-in differentiation without making significantly more work for yourself! Next time your principal stops in for a walk-through, you can point out that your class is built on differentiating for students needs and interests.
Small Group Work:
Classroom stations provide you the opportunity to work with students in small group instruction. Stations are a great way to work with small groups on a difficult task while the remainder of the class works through engaging, self-directed activities.
This is where you can really get your teach on, and you can do it in a way that is more effective and enjoyable. Again, you don’t have to fight the “quiet down now” battle, you can ensure your small group is paying attention, and you can address each students’ misunderstandings or struggles.
Station work allows for regular movement. You can easily incorporate brain breaks in the transition between stations. Physical movement is an important facet of learning that we often overlook. Classroom stations allow structured opportunities for students to get out of their seat. You can learn more about the importance of moving in class at this article by the Washington Post.
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Students want – even need – to move. You are structuring and controlling that movement, instead of letting it sneak out in unproductive trips to the pencil sharpener, bathroom, or the ’round-the-room wander.
Lastly, classroom stations put ownership of the learning back into students’ hands. They must take responsibility for their work, for completing it on time, and for doing their best to make sense of the material. Stations require students to do a bit of puzzling it out on their own, since you can’t be there for every student at every second. While students may resist at first, this will benefit them (and you!) in the long run. To ease the transition, I suggest starting with simple activities that have crystal clear instructions. You can also set up Support Stations or Cheat Sheets to reduce content-related frustration. Lastly, I highly recommend instituting a “Ask Three Before Me” rule.
The more you can put on your students, the less you have on you. It’s every teachers dream to have their students engaged and motivated, working hard to understand the content and complete the learning task. Utilizing high-quality activities and classroom stations in your instructional routine can move you in that direction.
Using classroom stations is a valuable instructional tool that every teacher can utilize. That’s not to say it is an easy practice to establish, though. To be effective, it requires a strong classroom management system, clear procedures, and positive student rapport. It also requires a good understanding of the types of activities that lend themselves well to stations. I have found that it is well worth the challenges, though. Once established, classroom stations drastically reduce the work of the teacher by shifting it to the students. No longer is it the “one man (or woman) teacher show.” The students are responsible for the learning.