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In this episode, we are chatting all about station-based learning, and how it can be used in your classroom. We will tell you what it is, and how it can be adapted for the secondary model.

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Show Notes

This week, we are talking all about stations in the classroom! It is a concept that is frequently used in the elementary classroom, however there are a lot of great uses for it, so we wanted to share how you could adapt it to the secondary classroom.

Both of us have done some form of stations in our classroom. Rachel has set up various activities for labs, and had students rotate through the different activities. One station activity in particular was in her chemistry course where students were learning about stereochemistry and what molecules look like in 3D. She would set up stations where students can build models, turn them around and play with them, etc. along with experiments to go along with it. Students then rotate through these stations.

Katie did stations in her ESL classroom. The way she set it up was based on the language strands: speaking, reading, writing, listening, and grammar. I would then teach out the concepts and set it up at the beginning of the week, and then for the rest of the week students would go and work through the various activities at their own pace.

She would provide time estimates as to how long they can expect a task to take, but ultimately students could choose the tasks in any order, and would use the week to get everything done. Extra help could then be provided as needed to students.

What even is stations-based learning?

It is probably worth taking a moment to define what stations-based learning is. Catlin Tucker has put together resources; Blended Learning in Action is one, and Balance with Blended Learning is another. She is really big in talking about some of the station rotation models that you can use with blended learning. Check out some of her resources if you want to learn more about integrating blended learning with a station rotation.

You may picture physical stations being set up in your classroom, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that. It is really breaking down your lesson or topic into different learning modalities.

You could have a teacher-led station, or a station for small group work. You could also have a station for individual practice of some sort, or some online learning, or even collaborative stations.

It doesn’t need to be specific locations in your classroom for each of these different tasks or learning modalities. Not all classrooms have the space to be able to set up different learning stations, so don’t feel like movement and physical spaces is a required component of this type of model.

That being said, if you do have the room in your classroom, creating the separate physical spaces may help students to transition and get used to this style of classroom and learning. Sometimes, having the physical movement and location change helped them to stay focused on the specific task at hand.

At the end of the day – do what works for you and your students. Try different set ups and see what is most effective!

Stations can be many things. Here are just a few that Catlin Tucker has suggested:

  • Maker space
  • Research or project-based learning station
  • Design and create station
  • Virtual field trips
  • Role playing and/or performance
  • Feedback

The feedback station is particularly interesting, as it could be teacher-led or student-led, and it is such a great way for students to find out how they are doing, and how they can improve.

In terms of preparing students for this type of station, sentence starters and frameworks are a great way to get students comfortable and used to providing feedback to others.

Setting up stations

It is a lot of front loading work to set up and plan for stations. You need to plan out multiple modalities, activities, etc. ahead of time to ensure everything is ready to go for your students. Knowing that, it likely isn’t going to be something that you do every single day in your classroom. This is more likely going to be once a week, maybe one week of the semester – it is definitely more of a short term set up. You could certainly plan for multiple rounds of stations, but you don’t want to try to set up an entire course from beginning to end with one continuous round of stations.

Think of it as a teaching strategy that you can use, and consider using this for a unit or skill/topic that students struggle with typically.

You could also try it out with a topic that students really enjoy as a way to get them used to this new format. If it is a topic that they really love and are passionate about, it will be easier to get them used to a station rotation model in the classroom. This way, when you arrive at a difficult topic when you want to use stations, students know the expectations and how stations work already. Do a low stakes activity prior to high stakes!

Another fun way to do it would be with some fun get to know you activities at the beginning of the semester. This makes it really low stakes, and allows them to get used to the model, while also learning about their teacher and classmates.

One fun activity to try uses index cards. Give students a stack of index cards. They then have to talk to each other. Every time they find something in common with others, they write it down. Afterwards, they then have to build the tallest tower that they can. Students love it!

Stations don’t have to be super complicated; look at the goals for learning in your classroom, and think about different ways that you can approach that learning. Consider interactions, and how these can be leveraged to support learning. You could have a teacher-student station, a student-student station, and then a student-content station. Each allows for different levels of interactions. You could then build this into the lesson you are planning.

Bitmoji of Rachel and Katie cheering and smiling. Text above them: LEVEL UP!

No matter what you do, make sure you have an objective for each station. Students need to complete or interact with the material at each station. Simply taking in content isn’t enough to ensure that students are actually learning, or that they have completed the different tasks. Get students to interact with what they are learning – this will really help them in the long term.

This format works really well with a mastery-based approach. In a mastery classroom, you do have that teacher-created instruction, and blended instruction which could be a station. You could then build in collaborative opportunities for another station. Then, you could have a station where students are sitting with the teacher and completing mastery checks and getting immediate feedback on their understanding.

Mastery approach works so well with stations. Everything is already created, and if anything, using stations will just help direct the flow in the classroom a bit more.

As you are planning, make sure you change up the types of activities you are doing. Don’t repeat the activities over and over, as students will lose interest and motivation. When considering the types of activities, it would be good to consider the UDL framework (Universal Design for Learning). It’s a nice way to frame your thinking about the different ways you can approach the learning of a topic, and how you can support the varied learners in our classroom.

With that in mind, stay tuned! We will have a few episodes dedicated to UDL coming up soon! Lots to come.

Logistics in the Classroom

When planning for stations, there are lot of logistics that you need to consider before implementing this format. For example, are you requiring students to stay at each station for a certain amount of time? Are you allowing students to free flow between the different stations? Are you setting limits to the number of students at a station?

There are so many different logistical pieces to consider!

The answers to the above questions will really depend on your students. Not much of an answer, but it’s the reality.

When Katie implemented stations, she wanted to let students choose what they worked on, how long, etc. but it didn’t work. So then she set up time blocks, and had a timer go off after a certain amount of time. This helped students to get used to the structure, and also allowed them to take a break if they were stuck on a station. It gave them a chance to focus on something else, and then return to it with a calmer mind, and less frustration. Students don’t need to complete a task in order to work on something else!

In terms of number of students, she did end up having to limit the number of students at a station at any given time. Otherwise, it ended up being a social station where students sat and chatted with one another, not getting any work done.

She used a timer, and had it running as students were adjusting. At the beginning, when the timer went off, all students then got up and tried a different station. As they got used to the rotations and expectations, she then let students stay at a station to continue working. However, she had to get them used to the structure and expectations, and they needed that physical reminder to get up and move – it really got them to better understand the format.

There are some great timers out there that you can use and project. You can even simply type the number of minutes and word timer, and there will be a timer in the results section that you can use.

You could also incorporate the Modern Classrooms Project structure of must-do, should-do, and aspire-to-do tasks. This works well with the idea that you don’t have to necessarily finish every single task. Approaching it this way will avoid the students who finish early, and are then asking what they then need to do.

One suggestion or idea is to incorporate a fun or a games station. In an ESL classroom, this could look like Boggle, Scrabble, Scattergories, etc. These are all games that are great for English language learners to focus on word recognition and vocabulary building. It’s also a little bit of fun that allows students to have a bit of fun. You could also make it into a challenge of students versus teacher at the end of the semester!

Bitmoji of Katie and Rachel with their heads in dice.

When Rachel went to science camp in the summer, they played (and she won!) a game called Ion! It’s similar in format to the game Sushi Go!, which is an easy and fun game that you should definitely check out. Ion is essentially Sushi Go! but chemistry based, and has you building molecules. It’s really cute and really neat! It’s a great way to get students to realize that you have to get negatives and positives to add up.

Finding games like these, while they are fun, are also incredibly educational and valuable. When students enjoy what they are doing, and are learning at the same time, it tends to be some of their best learning. It also makes it easier for them to remember concepts.

Another piece of advice: tech or no tech – do what works for you! It can be as high tech or low tech as you want. If you do choose to use technology, make sure you give students an opportunity to learn how to use the various apps or programs that you require prior to marks or assessment – keep it low stakes as they are learning a new tool.

In terms of low tech, you could have a thinking classroom station where you have students working on whiteboards. This is a great low tech station, which is ideal for math or science classroom. Students also like whiteboards.

You’re going to notice pretty quickly that some students may need extra help! The genius of this model is that students are busy while working their way through the various stations. If you notice that a student is struggling, you are now available to be able to offer extra help or support. Small group instruction is now possible! You can take the time to ensure all students understand.

If you do want to include technology, you want to make sure you select technology that will work with the devices that students have. For example, if they only have a smart phone, then you want to make sure that whatever activity or tool you have them doing will work with that device. If a student doesn’t have a device at all, then you need to be able to provide a device for them to use. I know that we want to assume that students have devices, particularly after two plus years of covid, but this isn’t the reality for everyone.

We don’t want technology to become the barrier to their success, so figure out what students have, what is needed, and how you can bring these resources to the classroom.

Something Katie learned quickly: if you are going to have videos, then make sure you have headphones available for students to use! Otherwise chaos will ensue! You could also look at headphone splitters so that multiple students can watch a video on a single device. This frees up devices for other activities. And check with your school library to see if they have any to lend out to students!

We talk a lot about edtech tools and how you can incorporate them in the classroom, but it’s worth mentioning that you should incorporate technology only where it makes sense. We don’t do everything technology-based! There’s a time and a place, and it can enhance learning, but it isn’t required in everything that you do.

One big learning curve with stations: make sure structure, objectives, etc. are super clear. Take the time to set it up properly, provide a low stakes opportunity to learn the model, and take the time to make it work. This will really help determine how successful full implementation of stations will be in your classroom.

Don’t forget to expect a learning curve for you as well! Take notes on what worked, what didn’t work, etc. and make changes! Failing once doesn’t mean the method is always going to fail, it just needs we need to tweak things, address the things that didn’t work, and try again.

When we were both trying out stations for the first time, it was hilarious some of the failures or challenges that we had. For example, Rachel struggled to figure out how to capture the students’ attention to let them know an activity or station was done. She ended up resorting to flicking the lights on and off. You could also use music – once the timer goes off, go to YouTube and play a song that will get them moving and dancing! It’s a great way to get their attention.

It’s funny because getting students’ attention was not something that we thought of at the beginning when planning for stations. Little things like this are going to pop up, and some of these logistics can be challenging.

Our biggest advice? Try it! Know that it probably isn’t going to go perfect the first time, but that’s okay! Do it for a day – it’s something different, and something fun!

Bitmoji of Rachel and Katie. Rachel is holding a person-sized pencil; text above them: SIGN ME UP with a checked box.

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