While traditional classrooms put teachers as tellers front and center, transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards and a more student-driven approach to science instruction understandably moves the work of students to the main stage. Incorporating science stations is one way to create a classroom that values and emphasizes active learning, shifts ownership and responsibility for student work where it belongs (to your students!), and creates an environment where teachers can more easily meet the needs of individual students and small groups.
Classroom Stations For Science Instruction
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 a station work approach.
Let’s dig in!
Why Are Science Stations Central To My Classroom Routine?
Science Stations Promote Collaboration
Classroom stations provide opportunities for students to work collaboratively with other students, exploring new concepts and making sense of their ideas. Learning is a social endeavor. We are a species that learns through our interactions with others — by observing, by listening, by communicating. As you create greater opportunities for students to work with their peers, you will find they will independently develop and refine their own ideas and thinking.
Students want to talk anyway. How often have you wasted minutes or breath trying to get a class to quiet down so you could teach? With stations, you don’t have to. Of course, there will be times you will need their attention as a whole, and you will engage your students in whole-group instructional experiences (although I tried to limit these to 5-15 minute increments).
That said, you can create a learning environment where the majority of class is spent in 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!
Learn more about “what to do with a chatty class” in this Teaching Science In 3D Podcast episode!
Classroom Stations Naturally Differentiate Student Pacing
Classroom stations can allow students to work at their own pace. Stations can be a way to differentiate for students who work more quickly or for those who require more time.
Students who complete their work at a faster pace can work through station activities and required tasks without being held up by others, allowing these students to more effectively use their classroom time each and every day. On the filp side, students who need more time can work at their own pace without feeling hurried through their learning.
When using stations for this purpose, of course it is important to have a game plan for your early finishers. You can provide time for silent reading, mindful coloring, engaging extension activities, or ongoing projects (consider 20% time?). While I caution adding extra involuntary work to those who finish early, you can help your students to identify productive and enjoyable ways to utilize free time they have in class.
This approach benefits all learners, as those who need more time to digest material and complete tasks actually have the time to explore the content and build their understanding — as opposed to simply “running out of time” and being given the answer during a class review.
You have built-in differentiation without making significantly more work for yourself! Next time your principal stops in for a walk-through, highlight how you are meeting your students work-time needs and providing opportunities for interest-based differentiation for those who finish early.
Science Stations Allow For Individualized Support And Small Group Instruction
Additionally, classroom stations provide you the opportunity to work with students in small groups — to guide exploration and meaning-making, to formatively assess understanding, to build relationships and address individual student needs. These stations are a great way to work with small groups of students on particularly difficult tasks 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 as you can ensure your small group is paying attention, and you can address each students’ misunderstandings or struggles through discussion and sense-making practices.
Stations Naturally Incorporate Movement
Station work allows for regular movement — whether students are simply walking to the next station or through more creative transitions, like brain break style movements. We know physical movement is an important facet of learning, and yet it’s something that we often overlook. Classroom stations create 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.
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.
Stations Foster Student Ownership Of Work And Learning In The Classroom
Finally, 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. When employed with exploration-style activities, stations ask students to do a bit of puzzling it out on their own, giving them a chance to stand (and work) on their own two feet. And actually, even with more traditional tasks, students are required to take a bit more responsibility — since you simply can’t be there for every student at every second.
While students may (will!) resist these shifts at first, we know 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.
The Challenges Of Station Work
All in all, 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. The vibes in your classrooom learning community are key in successfully navigating station-style work. It also requires a good understanding of the types of activities that lend themselves well to stations. While stations have their challenges, I have found their benefits far outweigh any hardships.
Once established, classroom stations can drastically reduce the in-class work of the teacher by shifting it to the students. No longer is it the “one man (or woman) teacher show.” Your students are responsible for their learning.