So you have finally decided to try out stations in your class. The problem is – you have NO idea how to begin. Can older students handle stations? Are they the same thing as math centers? What about behavior issues? Talking? Rest easy because I’m about to give you all the tools you’ll need to make stations a favorite in your classroom!
Are stations the same thing as centers?
- Nope! Math centers are generally pre-assembled, no prep activities that are grouped by different skills. So, for example, a teacher may have a fraction operation center, a decimal operation center, a rounding center, etc. Students pick a center and work on whatever activity is there for that particular skill.
So… what are stations?
- Stations provide students with the ability to work cooperatively in small groups to review or explore various parts of one overall concept. A set of Fraction Operation Stations may include an adding fractions station, a simplifying fractions station, a multiplying fractions station, etc. Students are given a small amount of problems to focus on at each station.
Why do you love stations so much?
- I love stations for SO many reasons. First, the collaboration. Often students just need a break from the teacher and can learn best when working with a classmate or two. Secondly, the movement. If your classroom allows, stations give students the opportunity to get up and move around the classroom at given intervals. This keeps them active and lets them stretch their legs instead of just sitting and working on one assignment. Next, the focus. Stations focus on ONE small skill at a time. I include hint cards so students don’t have to worry about keeping a bunch of “rules” or concepts straight. They can just focus on one thing at a time and then move on to the next.
How do I set them up?
- Option 1 : My favorite way to use stations is to set them up around the room. If you have a smaller room or an awkward setup, you’ll have to skip this option. Each station is labeled with the station number taped to the wall. At the station is a copy of the problems for that station copied onto colorful paper, card stock or in a sheet protector. Also at each station will be tools needed (if any) such as rulers, protractors, graph paper, dice, etc. Students work together at each station to complete the problems/tasks and record the answers on their own pages (often included with the stations). Small groups rotate through all the stations until they end up back where they began. A timer works great because you can set it to a certain amount of time for students to work at each station (5 mins usually) and then a certain about of transition time (30 seconds). I prefer this scenario because the materials don’t travel – just the students.
- Option 2 : Scattered stations. This option works well if you have a small class of students and the number of groups is smaller than the number of stations. It also works well with students who don’t need a lot of structure. Assign each group a station to begin with. They then work at their own pace, and move to a vacant station when they are ready. This option also works well when there are some individual stations that may take a bit longer than others. There can be a traffic problem though, so it’s important to have space to move and students who can handle the freedom.
- Option 3 : Stationary groups. I taught one year in a computer lab, which was great for technology but horrible for grouping. I couldn’t move the tables and computer so I was severely limited when it came to stations. Students would sit together in small groups and each group would be given station materials in a labeled ziploc bag. The bag would contain a copy of the problems for that station copied onto colorful paper or card stock, as well as tools needed to complete the problems/tasks. After a designated amount of time, each group would pack their materials back in the ziploc bag and pass it to the next group.
How do you grade stations?
- Obviously, grading any collaborative work is tricky. Depending on your students you may choose to give credit for completion, correctness or even effort. A requirement for stations in my class is that all work be shown on each paper. Students who prefer to copy will quickly realize it is a lot faster to just do the work themselves rather than wait until someone else finishes and copy… especially when they are given a limited amount of time at each station and for transitions.