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Tips For Doing Science Learning Stations

Science stations are one of my favorite ways to differentiate instruction in my science classroom! Learning stations allow me to prepare activities that meet a variety of different learning styles in the same class period! With different stations ranging from hands-on activities and station labs to reviewing basic concepts, they are a great way to add some variety to our classroom experience. Here are my top tips for doing science learning stations in a middle school classroom!

Station Preparation and Setup:

Learning stations involve running several distinct activities simultaneously. As you can probably imagine, to do this successfully, you’ll need to prep each science center ahead of time. Here are a few tips to make preparing your stations a little easier:

Timing

This is kind of a given, but make sure each station activity takes roughly the same amount of time to complete. Trust me, nothing is worse than having one small group of students with extra time because they finished early, while another group is struggling to have enough time to complete the assignment. You can determine the amount of time allotted for each station by considering the length of your class period and the number of stations you plan to do. I’ve found that stations lasting anywhere from 5-15 minutes seem to work pretty well.

Directions

Prior to beginning your stations, I recommend explaining (briefly) the directions for each station. This direct instruction given to the whole class is a great way to introduce the concepts to be covered at each station rotation. However, as we all know, a quick verbal explanation isn’t enough. This is where written directions are a MUST! Print directions for each station and place them in a sheet protector. You may even consider taping the sheet-protected directions to the table so they won’t be lost during the rotations.

Materials

As you set up your own stations, I recommend placing all materials required for each activity on a tray. These trays can be placed in the center of the station table. Giving a central spot for the materials will make it easier for students to find and clean up activity supplies. This is a good idea whether your station requires a variety of materials (think science labs or hands-on experiments) or simpler activities, such as close reading of an informational text.

Rotations

There should be a protocol or system in place for rotating stations. Choose some way of letting your students know when it is time to clean up and rotate. Perhaps you ring a bell or play some music (it’s kind of like the science class version of musical chairs.) It’s also important to determine the order and direction for moving from one station to the next. Personally, I like to create a map of the classroom that describes the station rotations. I HIGHLY recommend modeling how to properly rotate stations before beginning your classroom activities.

Practicals to Consider:

If you ask other teachers how to do learning stations, you’ll quickly realize there are many different approaches to effectively utilizing rotational stations with middle school students. While there are some best practices when it comes to science stations, there isn’t a “one size fits all” model or structure for every teacher or even every unit. Having done stations is a variety of ways myself, I can personally attest to that!

As you begin to create a learning station plan that works for you and your classroom, here are some practical ideas and details for you to consider:

Early Finishers

You can do your best to plan activities that take the same amount of time, but let’s be honest…there will STILL be that handful of students that finish each station ahead of schedule. Be sure to have a plan for what students can do if they have extra time. Need some ideas? Here are a few of my favorites!

Think Small!

Stations don’t have to be long or complicated. It’s possible to turn one worksheet into a whole room of stations. Simply put a single question at each seat and have students rotate from chair to chair until they’ve completed the whole worksheet. For this method, each station should only last 2-3 minutes. This is one of my favorite ways to get students engaged and moving around the room.

Create Two “Sets” of Stations

If you want longer station activities but still want students working in small groups, consider creating multiple sets of stations. Instead of setting up six unique stations, create two sets of three stations. Half of the class will loop through set #1, while the other half rotates through set #2.

Teacher Station

Consider having one teacher-assisted station for unpacking new or challenging content. This allows students to work through difficult concepts while being able to ask questions and receive support from you. This also is a great way for you to get a closer look at individual student progress and understanding.

Use Alternative Spaces

Ever wondered how you will fit several unique stations within your classroom? Use ALL of the space. Guess what?! Floor space actually makes a great spot for a learning station (depending on the activity) and students will likely enjoy the opportunity to get out of their seats.

Station Activity Ideas:

Alright, now that we’ve unpacked the “how-to” tips for doing science learning stations, let’s dig into the activities themselves! What makes a great station? Well, just about anything! The goal is variety, both in the type of activity and purpose. Some stations may be more hands-on (this is great for those kinesthetic learners in the group) while others are more traditional reading and writing activities. Some stations might focus on new concepts while others are intended to review prior knowledge.

This is GOOD! Having variety in your activities helps to keep students engaged and your stations impactful. Here are a few of my favorite activities to use for learning stations.

Guided Reading Passages.

These are great to do in a small group and can be used to cover a variety of concepts.

Vocabulary Practice

Vocab practice is a great way to review important concepts while also preparing for standardized tests. These vocabulary activities make great station work:

Lab Stations

Labs are a great way to give students experiential practice with different science concepts. Here are a few examples:

Data Analysis

It’s important for students to gain practice learning to interpret data charts and graphs. Here is an example of one of my data analysis stations!

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