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7 Ways to Use Stations in the High School Science Classroom

7 ways to use stations in high school science

So if you’ve been around here much, you know that I love to use stations in my high school science classes. Stations aren’t just for elementary students – they have tons of great value for high school students, too! Best of all, there are SO MANY different ways you can use them with your students. Here are 7 ways I love to use stations in my classroom:

1. Use stations for inquiry-based instruction.

My mentoring professor in my curriculum design graduate program was all about the inquiry-based teaching method (he even wrote a book on it!) I loved everything I learned from him about this type of instruction, but often felt a bit overwhelmed with how to do it PRACTICALLY. Stations became a great way to engage my students with scientific inquiry that didn’t feel over complicated to me.

For example in my Waves physical science unit, I created stations that allowed students to explore a different wave behavior phenomenon at each one – prior to knowing any of the science behind wave behaviors! It was as simple as taking a few of the demos I used to do during lecture and writing station cards up for the students to be able to do the demos on their own and record their observations and experiences. Then when we came together at the end of the class to discuss what we saw, I could clear up any misconceptions. Later on when we reviewed the topics in lecture, students had meaningful experiences to reflect back on.

*THINK ABOUT IT* What demos do you already do that could be turned into inquiry-based stations to introduce those topics to your students?

2. Use stations for experiential hands-on learning when you have limited resources.

I spent over three years teaching in an old computer lab that was converted into my science classroom. I had no lab materials, safety equipment, running water, or science budget. Because of this, traditional labs were nearly impossible for me to execute. Stations became a way that I could create hands-on learning experiences for my students with very limited resources.

For example in my Motion and Forces physical science unit, I created stations using objects from my house that students could use to demonstrate Newton’s different laws of motion. I literally walked around my house, collected items in a basket, and brought them to school. This made it so that I only needed enough materials for each station, and didn’t have to provide them for every lab group.

Even when I did manage to pull off a more traditional lab, like this one, I would only be able to borrow 1-2 digital scales or hot plates from other teachers. Because of this, I even set up my full labs in a station format where there was a “measuring” station, a “heating” station, and a “mixing” station. It made it possible for a small amount of materials to go a long way with a group of 25+ students.

*THINK ABOUT IT* What labs have you found but skipped in previous years because they require too many materials? Could you break them up into chunks and do the lab as stations so the amount of prep and required materials is majorly cut down?

3. Use stations to provide content on a topic in place of lecture.

When I think back to taking anatomy and physiology in both high school and college, I remember taking TONS of notes and labeling TONS of diagrams, with a few dissections thrown in the mix. So when I set off to write my own anatomy and physiology curriculum I wanted to come up with new and creative ways for students to still acquire all the information they were expected to, but to do it in a way that was fun, engaging, and student-centered. That is when I created Discovery Stations.

I decided to decrease lecture I would create stations for the different body systems that would allow students to discover each of the components of the system for themselves. Alongside the stations I created reflective questions and Big Body Diagrams (or BBDs, like I like to refer to them) for the body systems. These stations provided the essential information they would have heard in lecture, but in an abbreviated format. They also highlighted all the key structures students would need to know and label, but were much easier for my students to reference than the complex diagrams in their textbooks with 10x the amount of structures labeled than they needed to know.

Best of all, I was able to input tons of fun facts and engaging content into the stations, so it wasn’t just reading a card of information about an organ. Students truly got to discover the organ for themselves. Lecture time was easily cut in half, students were out of their seats, and able to take ownership of their learning. Win-win-win!

If interested, you can read more about how I use Discovery Stations here.

*THINK ABOUT IT* What topic do you spend WAY too much time lecturing on? Could you create your own version of “Discovery Stations” so that students could learn the content on their own through reading and applying, rather than through listening in lecture?

4. Use stations to incorporate technology in your classroom.

I am writing this mid-pandemic when the majority of us are on technology overload. But prior to all of this, I was often encouraged (read: pushed) by my admin to incorporate more tech, and stations were a perfect way to do that. I love sharing interesting videos and articles with my students by using scannable QR codes on station cards, followed by reflective questions.

This also became a great way to ensure that I was keeping science relevant by incorporating new articles and research that I found. I especially love doing this in my evolution stations. I know learning about evolution can feel controversial in some student populations, so I love that I can use QR codes and technology for students to “hear” the content from a variety of sources, not just me.

*THINK ABOUT IT* Is there a unit you teach that doesn’t include any outside research or sources other than you and your textbook? Consider incorporating additional voices through the use of scannable QR codes to scientific articles.

5. Use stations to promote scientific literacy.

There are so many skills we want to teach our students outside of just the content in the standards – one of those being scientific literacy. I’ve always hated using textbooks, so when I decided to ditch my 30 year old textbooks, I knew I needed to replace them with another source to give students opportunities to read in my classes. Plus I didn’t want to be their sole source of information!

Stations became a way to do that with minimal effort and essentially no money (much cheaper than adopting a new set of textbooks every few years, right??) With stations I can connect students to articles, essays, and research papers easily.

I also love using them for critical thinking. Two of my favorite stations activities of all time (my Food Web stations and Build a Phylogenetic Tree stations) have students move around the classroom reading station cards about different organisms and recording key information down about them. They then use that information to either assemble a food web for an ecosystem or predict evolutionary relatedness by constructing a phylogenetic tree. It is a fun method for practicing reading comprehension in way that doesn’t feel like you are practicing reading comprehension.

*THINK ABOUT IT* What topics are students regularly assessed on in your state exams or standardized tests? How could you create stations around a real world scenario that allows them to read, record data, and apply their findings to come up with a solution?

6. Use stations to expand knowledge outside of what the standards require.

There are some topics that students will never run out of questions about, and it can be frustrating as a teacher on a strict EOC or AP exam teaching schedule to not be able to take the time to dive deep into the topics that really interest our students. Stations have become a fun way for me to do that, and it only requires sacrificing 1-1.5 class periods for it.

For example, I found when covering cancer in my Cells unit in my biology class that the questions were never-ending. So I wrote up a set of stations on cancer that dove deeper into a lot of the questions that my students were having. It was fun for them to be able to learn more and for me to be able to provide the space to do that, without me just spending an entire day answering every question.

*THINK ABOUT IT* What topic do you always feel rushed through that your students are actually really interested in? Could you make a set of stations that allows them to explore the topic further while only sacrificing one day of instructional time?

7. Use stations for review.

I talk often about how I hate reviewing (I think it is because I was traumatized by a mandated month of review prior to the state biology EOC exam my first year teaching). Because of this, over the years I’ve tried to come up with new and creative ways to review material that is effective AND fun. One of my successes with this has been to use stations.

Winter break tended to always fall between my Genetics unit and my Heredity unit, so I loved to use these genetics review stations when we returned in January to refresh everyone’s memories before moving on.

*THINK ABOUT IT* It can be as simple as taking a review packet you were planning on distributing and splitting it into stations instead. Include different materials like mini-whiteboards, or chalk markers for writing on the tables, at each station to switch it up.

Is there anything I’ve missed?? What are other ways you use stations in your high school science classrooms? Any specific topics that have especially gone well being taught or explored with stations? I’d love to hear! You can reach out to me on my contact page or by DM-ing me on Instagram.

Looking for more information on how to use stations? Check out my other posts with all the reasons I love stations, some of my best practical tips, and solutions to many challenges that came up during my own trial-and-error experiences in my classroom!

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