I used to hear “learning stations,” and have my brain zoom straight to a mental image of a bright and colorful primary classroom, where a teacher uses the same set of stations repeating over and over on a daily basis to engage and meet the needs of all of the students. However, I finally started getting the hang of adapting the “stations” concept to meet the needs of older students. Since their longer attention spans and greater independence are an advantage, learning stations are actually an even better fit for the older age range!
There are some key points to keep in mind while implementing learning stations in middle school and high school.
Keep it Simple
Forget time-consuming gathering and prepping supplies; there’s no need to make your stations overly complicated to be fun and engaging!
Luckily, your middle and high school students have a (much) longer attention-span than kindergarteners in learning stations, and can be engaged with activities that require only thoughtful discussion and critical thinking.
If you’ve never implemented chat stations, then you absolutely must keep reading! As you might remember from college, Vygotsky developed the theory that learning occurs through social interactions.
I watched an awesome video all about Chat Stations. In the video, she explains what chat stations are, how to set one up, and how to implement them. Basically, they’re learning stations that encourage students to discuss the topic and think critically, together.
You start by writing a few questions and posting them around the room. You split the class into small groups, and they rotate around the room thoroughly discussing each question. Then, you meet back as a whole group and discuss the questions. This gives them a chance to already think about the subject, which leads to better feedback.
If you’re looking to just add another learning station to your rotation, consider using just a small piece of this. At the chat station, the small groups would discuss one or two questions, and you can still discuss as a class when learning stations are complete.
Create a “Road Map”
According to Edutopia, creating a road map or outline of all of the stations is a must. They provided a sample in the article for a lesson on Igneous Rocks.
They found that a “check- off” space or a line for a teacher signature can be very beneficial to help students stay on task and hold them accountable. Another idea to consider is requiring your students to get a stamp or a sticker, before they move on to the next station.
Carry a Clipboard
Make your life a whole lot easier and get a clipboard! This is an easy way to help your class’ learning stations run nicely and smoothly. Simply, carry a clipboard with you as you move around and monitor the class!
A clipboard with the previously-mentioned roadmap and a behavior management chart allows you to work with individual or small groups of students, while efficiently scanning the room for any off-task students.
You can document behaviors, and provide consequences and rewards however you see fit.
Include Time for Student Choice
As you have probably learned, students’ learning can be more meaningful and powerful when they get to be the ones who choose what to do, instead of being told what to do.
In his book The Highly Engaged Classroom, Dr. Robert Marzano explains why student choice is essential in our classrooms. He dives into learning theories and offers some tips on how teachers can provide meaningful choices for students.
According to Education Closet, “Marzano found that students perceive classroom activities as more important when they are given choices. It increases intrinsic motivation, increasing student effort and task performance, which therefore boosts the amount that students can learn from an activity.”
Take Advantage of One-on-One Time
This is the absolute best time to give individual students the attention they need. Instead of teaching to an entire class, you can appropriately scaffold learning while the rest of the class is still actively engaged and learning.
So, when it’s time for stations use your time wisely. You might go over the previous test with a struggling student, or extend the learning for more advanced students. Whatever it may be, strategically use this time to really individualize your students learning!
A Specific Example
Let me walk you through a set of learning stations I used in 6th grade math. I put this set together as an intro to polyhedra.
My main lesson goal here was to get kids exploring nets and visualizing all the faces, vertices, and edges. I wanted them to really get comfortable with classifying prisms and pyramids and knowing the difference between the two. This base understanding of how nets and faces are visualized is critical for their future success with surface area and volume, so I wanted them to dive deep and explore it all to really “get” that key concept.
I blended tech and hands-on to get the best of both worlds. Two stations required internet. I only used two classroom computers, since I had three in the back of the room and did not want to have to sign out the laptop cart (or maybe it was not available; I can’t remember!) You could potentially allow students to find their own video and applet resources (with guidance if needed), but I had them already chosen and set up to save time.
I put my kids into 6 groups and had them rotate through the stations every 15 minutes. Since we only had 52 minute periods, covering all six took two days. I told them that at any station, if the group ran out of time, they’d finish that station’s activity as homework or when they may have extra time at another station.
That way, after the two days, I could collect and everyone would have everything done. I put together little folders for them to carry around with all their printables, but you could really just lay the printed stack at each table.
Vocabulary cards were allowed to be completed as they worked, or saved for homework, depending on how fast each group worked.
At one station, they actually built polyhedra out of nets and then worked through a worksheet. The main goal here was to zero in on the difference between a pyramid and a prism, and of course see how the faces work. This builds understanding of surface area for later on.
At another, they watched a quick video and answered some questions about identifying a polyhedron. I even had them explore the root word “poly” and think of other words with that root and what it might mean. (See more about teaching math with root words here.)
At a third station, I let them play with online applets that allow them to “unfold” a polyhedron into its net. They could drag and roll it out, then pull it back together. Then, they practiced drawing nets from polyhedra, and polyhedra from nets.
The fourth station was all about identifying vertices, faces, and edges. I provided a reference sheet, and then the students had to complete a chart that accompanied it.
The fifth station was a fun one. I challenged the students to draw as many nets as they possibly could for a cube. I had some really great sticky note graph paper sheets for this, which they loved. They each filled up as many as possible and kept count. Regular graph paper would work well too, though!
For the last station, I offered ways to think critically about polyhedra and apply some facts about faces, vertices, and edges. They explore the number of each and work to develop Euler’s Formula in a guided way.
If you want to try this out, I have the full set of materials you’ll need. Just click here to purchase the stations as a complete lesson.
The great thing about running stations smoothly is that it frees you up as the teacher to walk around and guide each group. Ideally, everything is there for them and can be self-directed. You will be able to watch the groups explore ideas. This particular set of stations took me a lot of prep work, but it was so worth it when I saw how engaged they were. The kids surprised me by jumping in and working like a well-oiled machine. There were zero management issues. I am always impressed by how this type of structure brings out the best in a class.
Do you have any tips on implementing learning stations in middle school and high school? Let us know in a comment below!
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