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Challenges and solutions for using stations in high school science

Challenges and solutions for using stations

I LOVE using stations in my high school science classes. I have found them to be incredibly effective with secondary students, and I’ve found SO many uses for them, outside of how they are traditionally viewed for use in elementary classrooms. I want to address the six biggest challenges I hear the most often about using stations and share some solutions I’ve come up with to these challenges from my own experience using stations with my students.

Challenge = Monitoring the entire class while also helping individual students.

This problem isn’t unique to stations, but is an ongoing issue for any teacher trying to provide individual accommodations during a whole class activity. Balancing and meeting the needs of all learners is honestly one of the hardest parts about being a teacher. But this is one of the reasons I actually LOVE stations – they GIVE me the ability to meet with smaller groups within the context of larger groups. So how do I manage all of this?

  1. Have multiple copies of each station so that you never have more than 2-3 students at one at a time. This will help keep students spread out. I always find that trouble comes in groups of 4 or more – HA!
  2. Be strategic about who you pair up with who. I have assigned seats and rotate students at the start of every unit. I make these assigned seats strategically so that I can keep certain students away from each other. Normally for labs and activities I draw popsicles sticks with students’ names on them to select groups, but with stations I normally have them work with their neighbor who is someone I have purposefully sat them beside.
  3. Write your stations in a way that they can be done very independently. This will allow students to really work on their own so you can more easily meet with others. Demonstrate any station prior to setting the students free so that they know procedurally what to do at each station.
  4. Treat them like a lab. Take safety and management seriously and have repercussions for poor behavior. You know your students best and what will be most effective for them.
  5. If you just have a rowdy class, tell them they will be forced to work solo if they get out of hand. This usually subdues the more social ones!
  6. Make and use stations that are ENGAGING so students will WANT to do them! This is true for any resource we use with students! If we can engage their interests and spark their attention, they will be more likely to do what we want them to do.

Challenge = Students can struggle to retain information from the stations.

I love using stations as a way to decrease lecture – but that means that they then become the primary source of instruction for whatever topics they cover (this is the case with my body system Discovery Stations). So how do you make sure students retain all the information they need from the stations?

  1. Make sure to have questions to answer alongside the stations that will emphasize the information they most need to know.
  2. Grade stations for completion and go over at the end of class so that students can make sure they have the correct answers. This also creates space for discussion on the interesting things they learned!
  3. Train your students to treat their stations like they treat their notes, and use them just as much to study from.
  4. Share the stations in a secure digital format with your students to reference for later use, if you desire. I always did this for my students with accommodations.
  5. Refer back to the content in the stations regularly when you lecture on other topics and are reviewing for assessments. Make sure any key information from the stations is listed on your study guide or other review tools you are using so students know that they matter!

Challenge = Students working at different speeds can be hard to manage.

This challenge is, again, one of the reasons I actually LOVE using stations. I love that it gives students an opportunity to work at their own pace. For fast finishers, have an extension assignment available for them to work on as they finish (I love my study guides for this purpose because my students always have something they can be working on!) If you want something more fun, I keep my vocabulary review games printed, laminated, cut, and stored in a way that they are easily accessible at all times. If a student finishes early, they can grab a unit of cards with other fast finishers and play a few rounds!

For students who work more slowly, make sure to tell them which station numbers are the most important for them to get through and just reduce the overall number you require them to do. Any of my students with IEPs for double time I only have do half of the stations. This is another reason why I like to grade these for completion rather than for accuracy. It gives me the freedom to grade them more flexibly based on different students’ needs.

Challenge = Prepping and demonstrating the stations can be too time consuming.

If you are a teacher you basically have no time. I get it. But I’ve actually found that using stations in place of full labs was often quicker for me to prep. I try to keep my stations around 6 total so there aren’t too many to set up. I laminate all my cards to easily be reused year after year, and if possible, store any associated materials with their cards in one place to easily retrieve year after year. Additionally, I try to only have 1 or 2 stations that require a lot of prep or monitoring (this is one of my top 5 practical tips for implementing stations effectively!!)

If I am doing more inquiry-based stations where students are doing demos of different phenomena and making observations, I keep these SHORT. This allows me time to do a quick demo of each station (and how to clean and reset each station!!) at the start of class before setting them free. Keep each one to something they can do in 2-3 minutes. Then rotate every 5 minutes. My matter stations are like this and we can easily do them all in a 50-minute class period. Instead of going over them, we refer back to them later when we lecture on the content and reflect on what they experienced from the stations. I can also easily “re-demo” any that I need to to refresh their memories or catch up absent students.

Challenge = Class periods are too short.

Just keep it simple. If you are making your own stations, narrow it down to only 4. If you have purchased stations someone else has made, pick your favorites for students to do. Or better yet, let students pick which to do that most interest them! I prefer to reserve two class periods for any station activities that involve reading or listening to video, just so I know my students won’t be rushed through them. If you commit to using stations regularly, you will learn the pace with which your students work best and be able to plan accordingly in the future.

Feel free to pick and choose, too! I love using stations once a unit if I can to get the learning off of me and onto my students, but you don’t have to! Do what is best for you and your students. If you find that you are really short on time one unit, use another method like lecture instead. Then try them again for that unit next year!

Challenge = Using stations effectively when teaching in a virtual or hybrid setting.

Thanks to the pandemic, this is now something that has to be regularly addressed! Of course nothing works as well virtually as it would in person, but all is not lost!

If teaching in person but with major restrictions on student interactions, I recommend placing the station cards in sheet protectors and taping them around the room to your walls. This keeps them up and away from students touching them. You can also easily wipe them down between classes.

For use in a completely virtual setting, I recommend uploading a picture of each station to a Google Form. If the station includes a link to a video or article, you can put the link in the image header or caption for students to easily click (rather than scan). Below each station card picture, add a few questions for each station.

For example, most of my stations have 8-10 questions. For these I would only include 4-5 per station. I may be wrong, but I feel like EVERYTHING is harder and more cumbersome when done digitally, so I would lighten the load for my students in every way I possibly could. This year has been hard for me as a grown adult – I simply cannot imagine what it would be like to live through as a teenager.

I hope these reflections from my own teaching experience are helpful for you as you seek potential solutions to some of your challenges when it comes to using stations!

Are there any other solutions you’ve found that have been helpful towards combatting these challenges? Or do you have other challenges with using stations that I didn’t address you’d like to talk about? Reach out to me on my contact page or by DM-ing me on Instagram and we can talk about it! I’d love to be able to add to this post as I hear new ideas from your own experiences, so don’t hesitate to reach out!

Looking for other posts about teaching with stations? Check out why I love them so much, my 7 favorite ways to use them, and my 5 best practical tips for effective implementation!

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