Sept. 27, 2022

Getting Started With Station-Based Learning - E102

Getting Started With Station-Based Learning - E102

This week, we are chatting all about station-based learning. This instructional model is frequently used at the elementary level, so our focus for this conversation is how to implement station-based learning in the secondary classroom. 

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**For detailed show notes, please visit our website at**

  • There are many different ways to set up stations - by activity, by curriculum strand
  • Can be done over a day, several days, or even a week
  • Catlin Tucker - Blended Learning in Action book and Balance with Blended Learning book
  • Station Rotation Model:
    • Teacher-led, small group work, individual practice, online learning, collaborative stations
    • Doesn't need to be physical locations in your room although this can help your students stay on task!
    • Other ideas for stations: makerspace, research, project-based learning, design & create, virtual field trips, role playing &/or performance, feedback
  • Feedback station suggestions:
    • Peer review, teacher led, self assessment
    • Provide sentence starters and/or frameworks to guide peer and self assessment
  • Behind the scenes:
    • Lots of upfront work with a big payoff
    • Consider approaching the topic using different modalities
    • Think about those topics that students often struggle with to target for stations
    • Help students learn the model by starting with low stakes stations (getting to know you activities for example)
    • Consider interactions: teacher-student, student-student, student-content
    • Have clear objectives, tasks, instructions
    • Works well with mastery-based learning
    • Mix up the activities you use
    • Look at UDL framework for inspiration
  • Logistics in the classroom:
    • Limit the number of students per station
    • Use a timer and project it to keep students on task
    • It's ok not to finish all tasks
    • Consider lesson classifications from Modern Classrooms framework
    • Add in a fun station (curriculum-related board games, etc.)
    • Tech vs no-tech - not all stations need tech!
    • If using tech, consider all aspects - headphones, headphone splitters, chromebooks, adapters
  • Expect a learning curve - try, fail, learn!
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[00:00:41] Rachel: In this episode, we are chatting all about station based learning and how to use it in your classroom.

[00:00:48] Katie: Yes, we'll tell you what it is and how it can be adapted to the secondary classroom model. 

[00:00:54] Rachel: Let's get started.

[00:01:02] Rachel: This week, Katie and I are gonna talk all about station based learning.

[00:01:07] Katie: Yeah, it's, it's a concept that is typically used quite a bit in elementary. But there's a lot of really great uses for it in ways in ways that we can adapt it in secondary. So we thought it was worth kind of chatting about and sharing some ideas and um, how you can make this work in your classroom. So have you done stations before in your classroom? Rachel, let's start with that.

[00:01:29] Rachel: I have done some stations. I, I honestly haven't done a whole lot of station based learning in my classroom. I've done things where I have different sort of activities set up for labs. And I have students rotate through those activities. Like one in particular. With my IB chemistry course is they need to learn about stereochemistry.

So like what molecules look like in three dimensional space. And that's a really like heavy, heavy topic. Like it's, it's, it's a lot for the kids to understand. And so being able to like build models and see what they look like and kind of turn them around and play with them. And do some other sort of experiments that go along with it.

None of the experiments take all that long, but I'll set that up with stations and have students rotate through different stations to do that learning.

[00:02:22] Katie: Yeah, I actually did learning stations in my ESL classroom. I haven't since going to my new school because it's, I've had like completely mixed levels just cuz of COVID and everything else. And so I didn't yet have the resources to adapt, but um, I actually enjoyed stations and so. It for those listening, the way that I set out my stations in a language classroom is based on the different strands.

So speaking, reading, writing grammar, et cetera, listening. And so the idea would be that I would kind of set things up at the beginning of the week. I would teach out the main lessons, have links and everything for the kids. And then for the week they would just go through. and work through the different tasks that they have at their own pace.

And so I'd give like time estimates as to how much each would, you know, approximately take, but it was up to them to kind of focus and get things done, ask for help if they needed, et cetera. So, I mean, it's a really neat concept and I think students really like it.

[00:03:26] Rachel: I think when we, maybe we should take a few minutes and define what station based learning is. So I'm just kind of looking at, I've got a couple of resources from Catlin Tucker, and one of the books I'm looking at from her. Blended learning in action, a practical guide towards sustainable change. And she's really, really big in talking about some of the different station rotation models in that you can use in conjunction with blended learning.

and I think what's really kind of interesting here and, and interesting to think about, like, you might sort of picture stations are set up as like little places within your classroom, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it means. Breaking down your lesson or the topic into different learning modalities, I guess.

So you could have, for example, a teacher led station where you're doing some small group direct instruction, you could have A station for small group work, where students are working together on different sort of problems and stuff like that. You could have one where they're doing just some individual practice of some sort and doing some sort of online learning.

And then maybe you have like a collaborative sort of station or something like that, but it doesn't need to be, I think, specific. Locations in your classroom, it's having these different tasks or different, different learning modalities set up for your specific kind of lesson.

[00:04:57] Katie: So I found that having the spaces helped my students to transition to that style. So actually having the physical change Help them to better stay focused on the task at hand. Otherwise, when I try just, you know, sitting wherever it, nothing was getting done. So, I mean, you have to do what works for you and your students and, and figure it out.

I enjoy the movement and the actual physical reminders of what you need to be doing and what you need to be getting done. But perhaps like your students don't need that and that's okay too.

[00:05:32] Rachel: Yeah, no, I just, I, I feel like it's a worthwhile point bringing up because it doesn't necessarily have to be physical spaces in your classroom. Like if you don't have. Enough physical space to be able to set that up then that's okay. You can still do some sort of station rotation model in your classroom without actually physically setting those stations up.

. So, so stations can be many, many things. And I, I really like this list in her book here, but she talks about like, I've mentioned some of them already, but some other ideas for stations could be a maker space. I think that would be a lot of fun. You could do. Some sort of research or project based learning station, you could have a design and create station.

So students are maybe creating infographics or story books or something like that. You could have. a station with virtual field trips, one with role playing or, and, or performance like there's so many kind of ideas and different ways that you can, you can set this up. There is one other one that I think is really, really great though.

And that would be setting up a feedback station.

So whether it's teacher directed or whether it's like peer review or something like that, I think that could be very, very beneficial for our students.

[00:06:57] Katie: Definitely. And so how would you kind of set up the expectation and because it's not gonna be something you can just roll out immediately. So particularly for a feedback station, how could you kind of prepare your students for that?

[00:07:10] Rachel: We've we've talked about that quite a few times on the podcast here, but I think I would probably have. Those sentence starters for students to be able to start framing their feedback and then maybe using even frameworks like a 3, 2, 1 framework, right. You know, three things you've done. Well, two things you can improve on.

And one question that I have for you

[00:07:33] Katie: yep. That works. And so having those frames or starters. To get kids working.

And so let's take a bit bit of time here to kind of break down some of like the, the behind the scenes work that has to happen before you can just roll this out because you know, stations sound great. They sound simple, but there's a lot that has to happen to set it up and make sure that you're ready to go.

And that you have enough to keep, you know, kids working and moving along the curriculum.

[00:08:02] Rachel: Yeah, it is probably a lot of front loading work. I know for the couple that I've done in the past, like it's a lot of planning because you are planning out multiple different modalities of accessing the content for that particular topic. . And so knowing that I would say like, probably my best advice is you're not doing this every day in your classroom.

You're, you're maybe looking at this once a week or maybe once every couple weeks, something like that. Like this is just a teaching strategy to bring into your classroom that is very beneficial for students. So I would be looking for those topics where. My students really struggle or have a lot of challenges around really getting a good grasp of that particular concept.

I would probably target those ones. First, for station based learning,

[00:09:00] Katie: See, and I think I would do it first for something that they're passionate about, because if they're passionate about it I can get them used to the actual, mechanics of the station based learning and expectations, but reading and doing things that they enjoy. So I'm weird that way, but to me, like that's where I would start.

Like, let's take something we all love and let's try out this new format in my classroom so that when I do it with something that you're not so great at, or that you don't like so much you still have that background and that understanding of what the expectations are.

[00:09:34] Rachel: So going off of what you just said, yes, you do need to do some sort of low stakes practice with learning this station. Rotation model before you get into some of your content stuff. So I wouldn't necessarily dive right into like some crazy chemistry concept with my students and do a station rotation model without having help them practice the skills that they need before going into it.

I think a fun way of doing that could even be. setting up different, getting to know you activities at the beginning of a school year and having different ways that they can all get to know each other and get to know you and have that set up in your classroom. because that then is really, really low stakes.

So, you know, maybe you have a station where they're doing online work and maybe then you've created a video about yourself that they watch and they get to know you a little bit better. And then you could have a St. a station where. And, and I'm just coming up with this off the top of my head. So you could have a station where you are sitting there with working with small groups and you can have like a discussion and a conversation with your students.

And you can both kind of ask each other questions and get to know each other better. And then maybe you have a station where you have some sort of activity where students are working in small groups to get to know each other. There's one. that I did at the beginning of the school year, which I really, really love.

And it's uh, taking index cards. You give students a stack of index cards and they have to talk to each other. And any time they find something they have in common, they write it down on the index card and then they use the index cards to build, build the tallest tower that they can.

[00:11:24] Katie: Nice. 

[00:11:25] Rachel: Yes. So like you could have a station set up just for that activity.

And for them kind of like talking and getting to know each other, and then I don't know what your last station would be, but yeah, maybe it's individual work where they're filling out your, you know, typical like surveys you're about me surveys and stuff like that.

[00:11:45] Katie: Nice. I like it. That's neat.

[00:11:48] Rachel: Yeah. I plan that off the top of my head.

[00:11:52] Katie: It can be done.

[00:11:54] Rachel: But yeah, it doesn't need to be super complicated. I mean, you just, you kind of take a look at what you're trying to accomplish as, as a goal for your learning in your classroom and then, okay. What are the different ways that I can approach that learning?

So I would say, you know, thinking about interactions, I think could really help sort of break down those stations.

So interactions with, between teacher and student, between student and student, and then between student and the content maybe, and then that could give you that individual collaborative and then more teacher directed kind of stations that you could then build into whatever your lesson is going to.

[00:12:38] Katie: Yes. And regardless of how you decide to set up your stations, you know, make sure you do have an objective, something tangible that they're doing in each of them. So it's not just, Hey, I'm just gonna listen to this and move on to whatever's next. Make sure they're interacting with the content. They have something that they're either completing or doing or working towards.

Just to help keep them on task, keep them moving forward and, and showing that they understand what they're interacting with.

[00:13:04] Rachel: I feel like this works really, really nice with a mastery based learning approach. And I'm sort of thinking about even the way that I'm planning and using mastery in my classroom this year and how well stations align with that because you do have that typical blended instruction teacher created instructional video.

That could be a station you could have. And build in some of those collaboration opportunities as other stations within that lesson, or maybe it's like a hands on experiment or something like that. And then you have the station where students are sitting with you doing their mastery checks, getting immediate feedback on their understanding.

And so it it's almost like doing a mastery based approach works. really nicely with stations and it, it would actually minimize your planning because you could set it up quite easily.

[00:14:01] Katie: Yeah, I feel like you've, you've already kind of done that. planning out ahead of time, the front loading, and then putting it into a station mode. Isn't that much more, if anything is just gonna help direct your flow a little bit more in that mastery based classroom. So, so it is neat to use them both at the same time.

[00:14:18] Rachel: yeah. 

[00:14:19] Katie: um, 

I think another thing to keep in mind as you're planning your stations, You, you wanna change it up? You don't want the same activities every single time you're doing stations. Make sure that you're, you know, still keeping students interested because in the stationed format, there's a lot more independence and expectation that students are gonna work through these different tasks.

And so you wanna keep them motivated to learn.

[00:14:45] Rachel: And I think. For that I would probably be looking at the universal design for learning framework, because I think that's a nice kind of way to frame your thinking about, well, what activities, like what different ways can I approach learning of this topic? And then being able to bring in some of the activities that support our varied learners in our classroom.

[00:15:11] Katie: Yes. And on that note, stay tuned because we are going to have a few episodes coming up all on the universal design for learning. So stay tuned, lots to come.

[00:15:22] Rachel: Now I think it's also really important. So one of the, one of the other things you might wanna consider with station based learning is are you requiring students to stay at each station for a certain amount of time? Are you allowing them to free flow between the different stations? Are you setting limits on how many students can be at a station?

There's a lot of like those kind of logistical pieces as well that you need to consider as you are going to use this learning approach in your classroom. So why don't we chat about that for a few minutes?

[00:15:59] Katie: and that one's a hard one because normally I'm like this, let the kids work on whatever they want, but I actually found that it wasn't enough structure. I, when I did it, I ended up doing time limits just to get them used to this whole. Okay. We're gonna take a break. We're gonna refresh approach something different because if you're getting stuck on a station, I don't want you sitting there thinking you have to complete it before you move on.

Like there's nothing to say, take a break. Let's focus on something else and then let's go back to it. So I actually did, I limited the number so that it didn't become a social kind of area of the classroom, where everybody just sat and shadowed and didn't do work. And I had like a timer going as we got them kind of adjusted to this new format.

And then when the timer went off, I just had them all get up, try something different. And then as they got used to it, then they could stay if they wanted, if they were in the middle of working. But it, I had to wait until they were kind of coming to terms with this whole station based and this kind of different approach to the classroom.

[00:17:07] Rachel: I think a timer is really, really wise for sure. There there's some great timers that you can just get, like you can even throw in the Omni box, like the search box in Google and just say timer. And there's one that pops right up at the top of your screen. And then you can stick that in full screen mode, if you wanted to, as well.

so I really, really like that. You can also turn on and off the sound and, and all of that jazz. So I like that, that, that does make a lot of sense. And I, I like your thinking as well, in terms of, they don't necessarily need to finish, finish the station before they move on. And I think that's maybe a good opportunity then within your stations to think about even differentiating a little bit further.

So you could use something like the modern classrooms lesson classification kind of framework, where you have must do, should do aspire to do tasks. And I think then. doing something like that and approaching it that way is going to avoid those students who are like, okay, I'm done this station. What do I do now?

And building in some of the, that sort of different levels that, that they could approach that I know that then adds to the planning as well. So if you can't do it, it's okay. But it's just kind of a suggestion.

[00:18:29] Katie: One of the things I did was I always had a couple of fun stations and so it's English. So I would have different word games like Scrabble or boggle or a lot of other fun type games that I could argue are helping with vocabulary and, you know, all of that wonderful stuff. And so I would include that in my stations as well.

And so as students were finishing that group tended to get quite big, but I still made sure all of the students ha had an opportunity to engage with that station as well. It was a lot of fun. We ended up doing a let's challenge, miss Attwell to boggle by the end of the semester and see if the students can win.

So it was actually, it was neat.

[00:19:13] Rachel: I love that. I need to find some sciencey related kind of games like that. Like board games, board games. I definitely want in my classroom to set up a station for fun as well. Cuz you know, yeah, it's fun, but there's also learning in there. So for example, I went to the science camp conference over the summer and.

While I was there on the last day, I actually won a game that's called ion and it's kind of cute. I don't know. Do you know the game sushi go? Yes. So it's essentially SU sushi go. If you don't know what that game is, you, you need to go play it cuz it's cute and hilarious and all kinds of fun,

[00:19:56] Katie: it's easy to pick up on too, by the way. Like I'm a board, we're a board game family. We love our board games. We totally 

[00:20:02] Rachel: we 

[00:20:02] Katie: with it. So No, my kids love it.

[00:20:05] Rachel: Yeah. My son loves it too, and we play it all the time, but ion is essentially sushi go, but chemistry based and you're building molecules and stuff like that. And so it's really cute and really neat because I was playing it with my son. Who's only 10 and he's realizing, oh, you know, if this one has a plus one charge, I need to match it with something, with a negative one charge, and I need to make them all add up like that.

and that understanding is just so amazing, even for like any student to be able to understand in chemistry. So, you know, finding games like that, I think, yeah. While they're fun, they, they do still have an educational purpose.

[00:20:47] Katie: Yeah, totally. And, and embrace that because some of that learning is the best and most effective learning that students can do. Like it, it actually amazes me how much more they remember. When they're having fun with it and engaging with it like that.

[00:21:02] Rachel: Yeah, there's there's another one called pandemic, but I 

[00:21:05] Katie: Yeah. 

[00:21:05] Rachel: if I wanna buy that one yet.

[00:21:08] Katie: Oh man. We we've been playing pandemic for years and we even had like the legacy game that we were playing with one of our friends and then the pandemic hit and we're like I don't think we can play this anymore. It's totally changed. The amount of fun we have with it.

[00:21:24] Rachel: I can believe it. 

[00:21:26] Katie: I think another piece of advice is use tech or don't use tech. Don't feel pressure to make every single station, a technology based station. Remember that people learn differently. So it can be as high tech or low tech as you want. Whatever tech you are using, make sure that you give students some learning opportunities using that technology prior, don't make this their first exposure.

Unless it's a low stakes station where the whole point is to get to know it just take the time and don't feel pressured to use technology for everything

[00:21:58] Rachel: I was just gonna recommend that. So I'm glad you brought that up and that you could have a station that is a new tech tool, but it's, it's just a low stakes kind of activity, just so students kind of get used to that tool itself. I think you could even um, like keeping it low tech an idea would be maybe you have a thinking classroom station where you have students working on whiteboards and problem solving different things just on whiteboards.

I think that is kind of a great low tech kind of station, especially for that math or science classroom. And I love whiteboards. Like I love, love, love using whiteboards in my classroom.

[00:22:38] Katie: Yeah. Kids like them too.

[00:22:40] Rachel: They do. And it it's kind of cute because then they start drawing you cute little pictures and stuff like that on on the whiteboards as


[00:22:51] Katie: And I think one thing to mention. You're going to notice as a teacher, like you set all this up, you get them going. Uh, Maybe you don't incorporate yourself into a teacher station right away. But you're going to notice pretty quickly, which kids are going to need that extra support or maybe just a little more guidance.

And so the great thing about stations is everyone's busy. And they're always busy because of the way this whole model is set up. So now you can actually target those students that, you know, need that support and do that smaller group instruction. And it, it's a pretty awesome way to reach all kids in your class.

Like we were talking UDL, this is a good part of it because you can actually get through and make sure everybody understands you have that time now.

[00:23:39] Rachel: Yeah. And that's again, that's why I, I feel like it's such a good fit with mastery

[00:23:43] Katie: Yeah. Yeah. it works so well.

[00:23:46] Rachel: Now, if you do wanna include technology, I think it's worth talking a little bit about as well, because not all of your students are gonna come to class with technology, or maybe they're only coming to class with just say a smartphone. So as you're selecting. activities that use technology tools. I think that's something to really keep in mind.

So finding those things that can be done just on a smartphone, I think would be really helpful or planning on, you know, if it's something say you want them building an infographic or something like that, then making sure that you have a few Chromebooks available that could be at that station as well.

so that students are able to access the technology and that doesn't become a barrier to the learning.

[00:24:37] Katie: Yeah, that's key. Like we can't assume kids have devices and even their phones, maybe the WiFi's out and they only have wifi. Uh, You have to make sure that you at the beginning of the semester are figuring out what kids have and what they need and how you can get those resources into your classroom to help them.

And one thing I learned pretty quickly is if you're gonna have videos, make sure you have headphones available. otherwise it becomes a very chaotic classroom. So have some different headphones kind of set up or available for, for students at the beginning of the semester, they know where to access them, et cetera.

And then that way you're controlling some of that noise and distraction.

[00:25:20] Rachel: Yeah. And if you're pretty limited with devices as well, and you, you are using videos in anything that you're doing. Another suggestion I would have is look into headphones, splitters so that 

students can watch it together so they can both have, have headphones on, but then they can also, you know, only use one device.

[00:25:41] Katie: Yeah. They're, they're pretty cheap, easy to find on 

Amazon or anywhere else and easy to use, which is kind of nice.

[00:25:48] Rachel: Yeah. That's one sort of tool that's really worthwhile investing in at least a couple. Just so you've got a couple on hand and if you ever need to use 'em, you can.

[00:25:58] Katie: yeah.

[00:25:59] Rachel: now what's pretty neat is our school library has headphones that students can borrow. 

And, uh, 

so yeah, so that's kind of nice in terms of, if students forgot their headphones, you can just kind of send them down, down to the library and go borrow a pair.

So, yeah. So maybe check with your school library as well. You never know, or maybe 

you can request that they do that.

[00:26:22] Katie: I have a bunch. I, I have a bunch that I keep for that purpose, but not everybody does. And now some of the Chromebooks only have USB C instead of a headphone Jack or it's. Yeah. So you gotta kind of double check your devices too, to make sure you have the right hookup for those headphones.

[00:26:37] Rachel: yeah, cuz you might need then some adapters. So USB to the three and a half millimeter inputs. 

[00:26:44] Katie: Oh technology.

[00:26:45] Rachel: You know, we, we talk a lot about ed tech tools and how we integrate them into our classrooms on this podcast. But really I think incorporating that technology only where it really enhances the lesson is going to save your, save yourself so many headaches. And it's what we do. We don't do everything technology 

[00:27:05] Katie: Nope. 

[00:27:05] Rachel: for sure.

[00:27:06] Katie: No, I think there's a time and a place for technology. And I think I can really enhance learning, but I don't think it's required in everything that we do.

And, and so I think you need to find that balance and find what works for you, but also know that takes the pressure off of you because nobody's expecting you to make everything technology based in your classroom.

[00:27:25] Rachel: no, for sure.

[00:27:27] Katie: I, I couldn't even imagine having to do that. 

I, I think one of my, my biggest learning curves with stations was making sure. That the expectations were clear, the structure was clear objectives. Like you need to be able to very clearly communicate what students are doing in order to make this work. So really take the time to set it up that first time, have that low stakes, whether it be, get to know you get to know the tools, get to know the different formats and really walk students through.

Particularly in secondary where this is not like a very well used format. But take the time, make sure you understand what you're expecting of students and just get them used to it because that's, I think going to really determine how successful implementation will be.

[00:28:23] Rachel: and expect the learning curve for yourself. So it might not go well the first time, but if it doesn't go well, the first time you can take notes on what worked, what didn't work and continue to tweak it from.

[00:28:38] Katie: Yeah. Yeah. Like every time you you're gonna implement stations, whether it be with the same group of students or next, like taking some notes and reminders for yourself as to what you need to do differently, like do that because it makes a big difference. And just cuz you failed once doesn't mean it's always going to be a failure.

Just means we need to tweak it and fix it and make it better.

[00:28:57] Rachel: I remember even my first time I did stations and I'm like, how do I get their attention to tell them that they need to switch stations? And it was terrible. And I resorted to the like flicking the lights on and off like an elementary teacher. Right.

[00:29:12] Katie: the other thing that works well is music. So like going to YouTube when the timer's up and they're not listening to the beeping and put on like a nice like song, that's gonna get them moving and dancing and be like, what's going on with Ms. Atwell right now?

[00:29:26] Rachel: Yeah, it wasn't something I thought of at the very beginning though. And so, you know, it's even like little things like that, just the, the logistics of moving between station to station and how you're going to get their attention. I do love some of the timers on YouTube though, where the, where, when it ends, it's just like the loudest siren ever.

it's, it's a silent timer right up to then. So,


[00:29:53] Katie: So, those ones make me jump and then 

my students laugh at me I feel like it is good in that way, because if the teacher is jumping and scared and like what the heck is going on, the students tend to laugh and know it's time to move.

[00:30:07] Rachel: yeah. Yeah. So really like our, our advice is just try it, know that it's probably not gonna go great the first time and that's okay. You just, you, you keep tweaking and eventually you become really good at it.

[00:30:24] Katie: Yeah, I know that it doesn't have to be a whole unit. It doesn't have to 

be the whole semester. You could do this just for one day and it's something different, something fun.

[00:30:33] Rachel: on that note. I think that's a great place for us to wrap up our conversation here today. So what we'll do is we'll include any of the resources or links we talked about here today in our show notes, you can access our show notes for this episode at slash 1 0 2 that's EDU, G a L oh two.

[00:30:55] Katie: And if you like what you heard today, then feel free to share it with a colleague or a friend. And don't forget to subscribe on your favorite podcast app so that you don't miss out on any future content.

[00:31:05] Rachel: and as always, we love hearing from you. So if you have. If any suggestions for station based learning, we would love it. If you went onto our flip at EDU and left us a video message there, or you can go onto our and leave us a written response.

And we would also love it. If you have any ideas for episodes that you would like to hear, let us know.

[00:31:32] Katie: Thanks for listening and see you next week.