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How to Use Stations in Your Classroom

Oct 21, 2021

Are you ready for a very practical, how-to episode today?  I hope so, because that’s exactly  what I’ve got for you when it comes  to implementing stations.  I try not to overwhelm you  on this podcast with “implement this now and solve all  your problems” strategies, because that’s just not how things work, and, at least for me, learning all kinds  of new things just clouds my thinking and vision, and I end up accomplishing less.

However, a nice how-to every now and then can be refreshing, and I hope that today’s episode is that for you,  and it’s all about stations and how they can be used in any classroom.

Now, who could use stations, what classrooms or students would it benefit?  And I want to answer  that question before we get started.  Really, any teacher at any  grade  level can use stations, but I recommend the use of stations, and wrote today’s episode especially with the teacher in mind who’s been doing things the same way for a while and might just need a little bit of change.  I would also recommend stations for the teacher who has a ton to get through, feels rushed all the time to get through it, but in rushing ends up compromising student understanding and mastery.  Finally, I recommend the use of stations to any teacher who would like to have his/her classroom flow without completely depending on his/her presence and constant attention to make sure it flows…. Meaning, you need your students to  take a bit more ownership of their learning inside the walls of your classroom.

The idea of stations in the classroom is a familiar one in the elementary classroom, but much past that and they aren’t very common.  But the advantages of having stations in an elementary classroom don’t  just go away once students get older.  No, the benefits of keeping their attention in short bursts rather than the whole class period, teaching students to manage their time within shorter amounts of time, breaking larger concepts or standards into smaller, more manageable chunks… all those benefits still exist beyond the elementary classroom.

After listening to this episode you’ll have a clear vision of what stations are, how you can use them, and the benefits you and your students will get from implementing them.  And I  have a special gift for you, just for being a listener of the Sustainable  Teacher Podcast today.  Scroll down where you’re listening, you’ll find the description of today’s episodes, then three helpful links.  The first link you’ll see is to our full length show notes, a blog post on today’s episode.  When you click there, you’ll find on that page how to sign up to receive a video tutorial on how I use stations (as well as two other how-to videos from yours truly), what stations look like in my classroom, and even how to use a “key” in your stations without promoting laziness and learned helplessness in your students.

Here’s the ultimate benefit of stations.  You’re putting more of the onus of learning onto your students rather than having them rely on you for their understanding or how to go about each and every task.  If that sounds like something you and your students could benefit from, then today’s episode is for you, so grab your pen or open your notes app and let’s get to it.

I’d like to start off by introducing and explaining how I used stations in my own classroom.  In all of my trainings and courses for teachers, I truly believe in only sharing what I myself have tried and implemented in my own classroom, so that’s exactly what I’m doing here.  That’s also why I’ve brought other teachers on to my team, so they  can share their expertise in other content areas as well, and I’m super excited at the opportunity to reach and support more teachers that way. 

Station Set Up

So… stations in my classroom normally took one class period, but would sometimes spill into two.  The process in my flipped classroom meant that students came to class with their guided notes completed - they had already been introduced to the new content.  I would answer some quick questions about notes, check their notes, then get them going in stations right away.

When I first implemented stations in my high school (AP Psychology, meaning juniors and seniors) classroom, I heard moans and groans very quickly about how I was making them move about the room.  After resisting their complaining, I realized that having about 25-30 moving bodies (rather large, adult bodies at that) in my room wasn't a great cost to reward ratio.  Too much time was taken up by the transitions and there really was no point to it considering most stations were either digital or used materials that easily fit into a portable bin from Target Dollar Spot.

Alas, the bins started moving and the students stayed put.  So  just because I use the word stations, doesn’t mean they are stationary in your room.  At least in my classroom, they more served as a way  to break up what we were doing into bite-sized chunks, focusing on content mastery, reflection on learning, and then rinse and repeat.

So I would briefly introduce each station at the beginning of class (after checking notes and the bell ringer of course), then put a timer up on the board.  Students knew they had that designated amount of time to get through each station, they would rotate the bins and get going on the next station.  Finally, we would come back together at the end of class once they had "visited" each bin... rather once each bin had "visited" them.

What are Stations?

But, what are stations?  What would be in those bins?

The answer: Anything you want.

Many teachers I've worked with in flipping their classrooms have said they aren't sure what to make into stations.  (Side note, implementing stations isn’t exclusive to flipping your classroom.  Flipping or not, you can use stations).  I simply ask this of teachers, and I’ll ask of you-  do you have handouts or various activities you use in your class?  Of course, the answer is always yes.  Just use those.  Some of them you may have to repurpose a bit or size down some, but almost anything can be turned into a 5-10 minute activity that can be paired with other activities to make into stations.

How you structure these stations is totally up to you.  That's the beauty in them.  Make sure to go see the full length show notes linked below so you can grab the info inside my video tutorial because there I explain how to use a "KEY" for each station in a way that doesn't produce laziness and apathy in students.  Which is totally crucial if one of your goals is to promote student ownership of learning.

I’ll share an example of a set of stations I use in my classroom so you get a better picture of what I’m talking about here.

One of our topics in AP Psychology is Statistics and its use in psychological research.  Students watch my flipped video and take notes for homework.  Then when they come into class I check those notes and answer any questions they have from their notes (I require that they ask questions).  Then they have the following station topics and tasks to complete:

  1. The Normal Curve - in this station they watch a quick video I made  explaining how to answer test questions about and using the normal curve.  Then they complete an exit ticket from that station so I can measure their understanding and the video’s effectiveness.  They are encouraged to discuss the video, the example test questions they work through, and even the question on the exit ticket with their partner and group members.
  2. Skewed Data - Students get a half sheet with graphic examples of skewed data.  There are some questions on the handou
  3. Null hypothesis - students get an example hypothesis and null, and are reminded why considering a null is important (which was from their notes), then they work through another example hypothesis and come up with the null, submitting it on the exit ticket form.
  4. Statistical significance - students watch a quick video, clarifying the concept, then discuss and answer the exit ticket question.

To clarify, I use one Google form as an exit ticket for all the stations, one or two questions pertaining to each station (labeled with subheadings so that it’s clear which questions go with which station).  They answer the questions for their stations as they work through them, then submit before they leave class.  This is fantastic data I can then use to respond to their learning and clarify any misconceptions.  Sometimes I even project the results Google forms gives me and we work through that information together, students reflecting, taking notes, and asking questions.

You may also notice that each of my stations here are based on different vocab terms or topics all within my bigger standard for the unit.  And, I created resources for some of the stations, but just used handouts or examples and questions I already had for other stations,  Point being, I didn’t totally reinvent the wheel just because I was doing stations.

The last thing I’ll mention here is that often times students were crunched for time.  And in any given year when we did stations for the first few times, it took students some time to really get used to the hustle and bustle.  But here’s why I didn't mind this.  It forced them to work smarter not harder.  I would often remind them that if I give you 10 questions or prompts to work through in one station, but you’ve totally mastered it by questions 6 or 7, that’s fantastic!  Just make sure that is actually the case by checking the key, discussing it with your team, and clearly conveying your understanding to me.  The point of these stations is NOT to complete all the things, because it certainly is not for me to grade all the things, which I didn't - NOPE, I did not grade station work.  More so, the point is to get students through the content in manageable chunks so they both see their progress and don’t waste time.  I’m not about rushing through topics for rushing’s sake, but why spend more time on something than is necessary?

Advantages of Stations in the Classroom

For more information on stations and a clear, visual tutorial on how to implement them, I have an exclusive video just for those on my email list - once you’re on the list, we are like teacher buddies, so I treat you as such and make sure I bring added value for you.  So be sure to click on that link in the show notes, fill out your information on the website and I'll send you that tutorial video, along with a couple other tutorials that I think you'll find valuable.

Before we go though, I want to remind you of the advantages of stations that I not only  found in my classroom but think you will see in yours as well. 

  1. Students took the reins a bit more simply because I wasn't at the front of the room.  Instead I was working, walking, and answering questions around the room.  It's as if they somehow knew the responsibility of learning was on them, and most of them took great ownership of that.
  2. When I noticed common questions or difficulties I would tie that into directions for the next class, but would also stop the entire class to clarify a quick point so as to preserve the stations’ efficiency (and effectiveness) for the current class.
  3. TIME - students started getting better at managing their time when they had to work in what I will call "micro-learning moments."  They knew they wouldn't get EVERYTHING out of each station.  And that's not the way the stations were designed anyway.  They are designed to focus students’ attention on a very specific topic or standard, and students know "If I have a basic, foundational understanding of this topic/concept, then I'm good to move on."
  4. Planning was actually WAY easier.  Like I said, each station was mostly made up of handouts and activities I had already been using.  So I just compiled those, wrote some handy directions, and got after it.  Sometimes these stations would take up multiple class periods which meant that my planning was more efficient and spread out over more days of my curriculum calendar.
  5. It's a routine for students that can almost serve as a template for me, where I get to drag and drop activities and handouts (so to speak) into the template of stations and use over and over again without it seeming too redundant or boring to students.  It's different, and yet the same, every single time... there is beauty in that my friends... it's called sustainability.

Now, enough about the setup and advantages, let's get to the tutorial.  Fill out the form on this page, just scroll down a bit, and I will send the page with the video straight to your inbox, along with a couple other tutorials as well.   And, I promise, just because I have your email doesn’t mean I’ll spam you.  I’ll remind you of our weekly podcast episodes and let you know about some opportunities  we have for teachers when we have them, but I won’t be annoying you  in your inbox - promise.

So, tell me, how might you use these stations in your classroom?  What are you excited to create now?  Let me know in our Facebook community for Sustainable Teachers linked here, and I hope to see you there.

And I hope  to see you here, same time, same place next week.  Bye for now.

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