As you may know, I am not a fan of the sit and get type of education. I like to get kiddos moving around, empower them with choice, and construct their own learning. Stations are a great way to do this while allowing me to differentiate. Stations (aka centers) are in no way a new idea in education or my teaching career. I have used stations in a variety of ways over the years, but am pretty excited about how I am using them this year.
I know that stations are typically associated with younger grades, but I can not begin to stress how successful they are in upper elementary grades. I have used them in the past with 5th graders, my friends have used them successfully with 5th and 6th graders, and I am again using them daily with 5th graders. Every once in a while I use stations in Science Workshop and Study with the 5th graders, but I now use them every day during Math Workshop.
I have 5 different stations, allowing the kiddos to go to a station a day. They include Tech Time (concept related iPod and web games), Game On (concept related board games), Trump the Stump (multi-step problem solving), Co-Op It (cooperative problem solving cards), and Marcy Cook's Tiles. Each day the kiddos go to a new station and spend anywhere from 20 - 30 minutes at the station.
The kiddos disperse to their stations at the beginning of Math Workshop. It's really cute how they manage their time while at stations. They use their Kindles or iPods with fun alarms, they use the virtual timer in the classroom, and jot themselves little notes about what time they need to end and check the clock every now and then (all strategies they brainstormed to help them be independent at stations). They quickly and eagerly get what they need for their stations, ask each other for help, and end up spending more time at the station than necessary. One kiddo asked today if he could stay in at recess to finish Trump the Stump because he was so enjoying it and ran out of time to finish it!
Each station has at least 3 choices for the kiddos to choose from. So although I am expecting them to practice something related to the concept, for example decimals, they still can choose which activity to complete at the station. This, and the fact they can work with others, has a lot to do with how engaged they are when working in stations.
This may sound pretty easy for them to manage, time-wise, but actually becomes tricky when they join me on the rug for the mini-lesson. While they are at stations (heterogeneously grouped) I pull small groups to teach a mini-lesson. They need to suspend their time at the station, possibly pause their timers, and join me for 10 - 20 minutes. I first saw this idea of 3 small mini-lessons on Beth Newingham's website and have always wanted to try it.
The small groups are determined by the exit ticket completed from the day before. I happen to use Socrative for the exit ticket, and the kiddos love it! (Can I tell you how bummed they were the other day when Socrative's server went down?) I'll be slightly changing how I determine small groups because I'll be basing them off of the exit tickets and the unit pre-assessment. This will allow me to differentiate even more by determining which kiddos need a modified lesson, which kiddos have mastered the standard and don't need to be a part of the mini-lesson, and which need a nudge.
Once they have completed at least 20 minutes at the station, met with me, and completed the day's exit ticket they are then free to engage in a math choice. They really do like having the freedom to manage themselves, make choices, and work in small groups.