The Complete Guide to Setting Up Effective Science Stations

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Why Use Science Stations?

Science stations are a staple in my classroom and have made the biggest impact on student mastery.  I’m a firm believer in student-led learning in any subject, but in science it is so important that hands-on exploration is part of the learning process.

Teacher led demos are a fantastic tool to get kids engaged about a particular topic, but science station labs allow students to immerse themselves in the topic.  They allow students to experience science on their own and then reflect back on their learning.  Through this process the students get to participate with the content.

Complete Guide to Effective Station Labs

I’ve always felt that science is one of the most active teaching jobs.  Many states require a certain percentage of the curriculum to be hands-on learning and science stations fit the bill very nicely.  Once the science stations have been setup one time it is very easy to plug and play new information into the setup.  This keeps lab prep times much more manageable and allows the teacher to breathe.

One nice byproduct of station labs work is the teacher is able to become the facilitator in the room rather than the direct instructor.  This is better for student achievement, and your administration will also love it.

Science station labs can also be easily modified for students with IEP’s or those who need extra help.

I’ve created a massive series of science station labs for the classroom, but this article will focus on how you can setup your own station labs effectively.

Station Labs Download

What are Science Stations?

Science stations or centers mean something different to many people.  The station labs in my room are setup for students to use several different learning styles to explore new information and reflect on their learning.

Differentiated Learning

Science stations are truly differentiated learning.  I’m sure the word “differentiated” makes your head spin when you start to think about all different levels of students in your classroom.  Stations allow you to present information using many different learning styles.

I setup eight different stations around the room.  Four of the stations are for exploring new information about the concept, and the other four stations help students to reflect and assess their learning.

Science Station Labs

Students will be in groups of 2-3 and will each have a lab sheet that goes with them around the room.  The teacher will assume the role of facilitator and ensure students are on task and understanding the new information rather than feeding it to them.

What Does Each Station Look Like?

Each station is setup with a different learning style in mind.  This helps to differentiate the content.  Below is a list of each of the different stations I use in my class.

Kesler Science Labs

Input Stations

  1. Explore It! – At this station students will get to explore the concept with hands on learning.  This station is meant to get the students thinking about the topic being taught.  You can relate it to previous knowledge, use a demonstration, or have the students do an activity that helps explain the concept.  The point of this station is to allow students to explore.
  2. Research It! – This station allows the student to get online and research the topic being taught.  I usually hunt for interactive activities, or grade-level articles for this station.  I incorporate technology at this station because I’ve found students are much more engaged when technology is present.
  3. Watch It! – At the watch it station students will watch a video about the content.  Videos are the medium that students are familiar with and how many of them receive their information (good or bad).  A 5-minute video can be extremely more productive than a student having to listen to a teacher lecture for 45 minutes.
  4. Read It! – The read it station is setup to allow students to gain information from a traditional reading passage.  The reading is generally a one page article which is relevant to the content.  I always include 4 reading comprehension questions that come from the reading.

Station Labs Download

Output Stations

  1. Write It! – This station will challenge the student to write out responses to open-ended questions.  This provides the students the opportunity to write in complete sentences while reflecting on the information.
  2. Organize It! – This is a hands-on station which allows students to work with a manipulative in order to show mastery of the concept.  I often use card sorts at this station.  Vocabulary and definitions are an easy go-to, but I would suggest something that applies the knowledge rather than resorting to memorization.
  3. Assess It! – This station is setup as a set of traditional multiple choice questions and answers.  At the end of the day I need students to be able to apply their new learning to this type of questioning. This station provides yet another opportunity prove mastery.
  4. Illustrate It! – One of my favorite stations allows students to connect their learning with a sketch or illustration.  This station is not only for creative students.  I’ve seen many students benefit from drawing their reflection and making those connections.

Illustrate it kesler science

At each station I use small baskets that contain all of the cards (instructions for the station) and any materials that are needed.  You can download all of my signage for free.  This format makes it very easy for students to understand.  It also makes it very easy for the teacher to clean up and setup the next station lab.

Tips and Strategies to Setup Science Stations

The first time you try this format for the station lab you’re likely going to be nervous.  Is this going to work?  Are kids going to get it?  This next section will address all of those fears and will set you on the path to having a great experience with the station labs.

I highly suggest requiring each student to turn in a lab sheet to ensure everyone is working on something within the group.  I allow them to work in groups of 2-3, but have found that 4 is just too many for a group.  I would also highly encourage  you to choose the lab groups.  This is a far more effective method for quality work.

In my classes I allowed students to move to the next available station when they finished a station.  This stops a lot of the nonsense that comes with downtime, and generally speaking there will be different time requirements at each lab station.  I had 45 minute class periods, and most students were able to complete a lab in that time period.

Station Labs

What about classes that have 30+ students in them?  There’s a simple solution for that.  You need to double up the stations.  If you were really ambitious you could double every station, but I only duplicated, or even triplicated, the input stations.  I would highly suggest having students start off at the input stations.  These are the stations that new information is gained.  It doesn’t make sense for students to start with the output stations if they don’t know anything yet.

My paraprofessionals who worked with students with modifications loved the station labs because they could easily modify the assignment.  I would typically have them do the Explore, Research, Watch and Assess stations, but you could do any combination of input/output you wanted.

Students aren’t going to need much help with the station labs if they are setup properly, but I always found it most effective to hangout by the Explore and Organize stations (put those two together).  At the explore station you can help students to process new information and at the organize station you can visually determine if they understand the content.

science labs

Don’t think technology is a requirement for this type of lab setup.  You could easily substitute textbooks or supplemental materials at these stations.  Don’t forget you likely have a SMART board or teacher computer that could be used for one of the stations.

At the technology stations make sure the students leave the webpage up that is required for that station.  You will save a lot of time if each student doesn’t have to go to a new webpage every time.  Also, use URL shorteners like goo.gl or bit.ly to shorten long website names.  These are generally case-sensitive and you would want to note that to your classes.

The reading passages don’t have to suck!  I always try to write or pick a passage that is relevant to the topic, but it doesn’t have to specific and factual information about that concept.  What would be engaging to students?

Science Reading Passages

I required the write it stations to be done in complete sentences.  This is an area that you can modify, but middle school students really need practice in this area.

If you have a question or comment about the setup please let me know in the comments section below.  I’ll be glad to answer them

Grading Science Stations

I know you’re probably thinking about grading a stack of lab write-ups but this doesn’t have to be a difficult process.  The goal for students is mastery of a particular piece of content.  I can easily verify this by grading only the Read, Assess, and Illustrate section.  I know immediately if the concept was obtained.

Assess It Station Lab

What about students that eventually figure out that you only grade a few sections?  Don’t let them see behind the curtain and change up  your grading!  My point is this doesn’t have to be a difficult 5-hour job.  Make it easy on yourself.

Those students that didn’t perform well on the lab can easily be identified and are ideal candidates for extra help or tutoring.

You Don’t Have To Do It Alone

Setting up science stations are something that you could do by yourself, but if time is a concern I’ve done all of the work for you.

I’ve created 100+ science station labs that cover a huge variety of common science concepts.  You can buy each lab individually, as a unit bundle, or save a massive amount buy buying the entire lab bundle.
Station Labs Download

 

63 Comments on “The Complete Guide to Setting Up Effective Science Stations”

  1. One last question. I’m doing the heat transfer science stations today. I should add that I am a brand new teacher. Can you give me an idea of how many points you make the science station assignment?

  2. Do the students work independently at the centers (in small groups of 2-3) or as a collaborative group?

  3. Chris,
    What do you do if a student misses lab day? How do you handle getting the information missed to the absent student and for the missed grade for the lab sheet?

  4. I just purchased the Science Station Labs for several topics and have one question. If two of the stations require the students complete other stations first, how do you manage the number of students at each station at the beginning of class. For example, if I have 24-28 students in a class and only want 3 students at a station at a time and two of the stations can’t be used at the beginning of class, how does that work?

    1. You’ll want to double up or triple up some of the stations. You’ll want to be able to support an 1/8 of your class at each station.

  5. I purchased the lab bundles last year and I love them! I laminated the all of the pages so I can reuse them and they are ready to go for the next semester. If there is a topic that is not covered in the bundle I create my own using Chris’ templates. Thank you so much! You have made my lesson planning so much easier.

  6. What activity do your students do during the “Take a Break” station? How long are they at that station if used?

    1. I included it for teachers that absolutely had to use it. I personally didn’t use them, but you could have them do some kind of brain break or logic puzzle at this station while they are waiting for another one to open up.

    1. I included it for teachers that absolutely had to use it. I personally didn’t use them, but you could have them do some kind of brain break or logic puzzle at this station while they are waiting for another one to open up.

  7. I just purchased the Science Station Lab for the Endocrine System and have one question. If two of the stations require the students complete other stations first, how do you manage the number of students at each station at the beginning of class. For example, if I have 24 students in a class and only want 3 students at a station at a time and two of the stations can’t be used at the beginning of class, how does that work?

  8. Hi Chris! I absolutely love all of your work, so much that I have made incorporating your lab stations as part of my professional goal for this year! I was wondering if there is a way to print out this this post to share with my AP. I have tried your share it button, but it emails and prints out the web address only. Thanks!

  9. I teach high school biology and horticulture. I would love to modify some of these topics to be more advanced. Have you worked on any labs for the higher grade levels?
    Thanks!

    1. At this point the lessons are all geared towards middle school classes. There may be a day when I create for high school, but it probably won’t be soon.

  10. Chris, I first want to thank you for all of the great ideas. I am looking forward to starting lab stations with my students. You say you usually finish a “lab” in a 45 min class period? Is this the whole rotation between all the stations? or a couple stations. I do not see my students getting through all the stations in one class period (40 min). I have large classes of 25-30 students, very challenged academically and behaviorally. I do believe the stations would be great if I could just get it fine tuned. Any advice? I have already begun planning additional stations, it is the rotation and timing I am concerned with.

    1. I was able to get most students finished in a 43 minute class and also had some classes over 30. I would suggest modifying which stations certain students had to complete if they are a slower learner. For example, just have them do the explore, watch, illustrate and assessment.

  11. This is the stuff that makes me excited to be a teacher. Super excited. I’m proud to be part of a professional “community” that includes you, Mr Kesler. Many thanks.

  12. I love your idea of the Science Centers, lovely ideas, I was wondering for your centers, if you don’t have all of the equipment would do you do to make up for it (ex. scientific scales)?

    1. If you don’t have basic science equipment like a scale I would take that battle to the administration and let them know there is no way for you teach science without the basics. I know that may sound snarky, but I’m being very serious. Could you maybe borrow some from another school in your district or another classroom?

  13. Where can I find the starter kit? I have looked on TPT and can’t find it.
    Also the video links in the minerals and properties lab do not work.

  14. Today I was able to complete my first science station. I teach 6th grade and have been wanting to try teaching using this format. I spent Sunday getting all the materials ready. I have to say it went great!!! All my classes gave positive feedback and said they couldn’t wait to do another one! Thanks you for all the work you have done putting these together!

    1. Great news and you are so very welcome. The prep the second time will be so much easier.

  15. I moved from teaching 6th math and science to teaching 7th-8th science. I was really nervous about the content so I purchased your INB Bundle and Lab Stations Bundle. My 8th graders have used several INB notes and appreciated the ease of finding information needed for their study guide. Today I tried my first lab station day. It took awhile to set everything up, but once I did. I was able to watch my kids work around the stations and have some great discussions on the topic. I was in awe as I knew it was a difficult concept to understand. Thank you!

    1. Thanks so much for the feedback. The next time through it will be much easier because they will know exactly what to do.

  16. I am about to purchase a few of your station labs, but one question. You mentioned in an earlier post that you use the labs about twice a week. Do you see a benefit to using them at the end of a chapter withe the students rotating through them for a few days as review before a test?

  17. I purchased your Earth Science bundle and the youtube link has been pulled…can you suggest another video?

        1. The google link is still working. I will take a look at an alternative and get this product updated this week.

  18. I love your lab stations. I am working on adapting one for use in my collaborative classes. I need to change the research and read it stations to use more challenging curriculum. I have found what you included good for my lower level kids but want to challenge the higher level ones. Do you offer a template that would let us plug in new links or questions?

    1. I could see using them that way. My only concern would be boredom from students who already feel like they know the information. I really like using them to provide new information.

  19. How do you handle students who are absent? Valuable information is being learned and it would difficult to replicate on their own outside of the classroom. Would this be something you would have them make-up after school (headache) or would you provide succinct notes?

    1. Great question. I have my own notebook that is used as a demo. I usually photocopy it at the end of the day and have it in the back for absent students. I also use it for students with modified assignments/notes.

  20. Hi, I have a bunch of your Interactive Science Notebook activities which have been great in my 6th grade science classroom. This year, we moved to NGSS and I want to try stations to have the kids think more deeply about the concepts. Do you have an stations on matter ms-ps1-4 or ms-ps3-3? Thanks!

    1. Not yet. They are coming this year though. I don’t have a timetable for them quite yet.

  21. I love your science station ideas, they are brilliant and I cannot wait to purchase them! Do you incorporate the stations on day 2 of a new unit? I am trying to plan and am wondering if, on day 1, I should introduce the new lesson and give a few notes for their isn and day 2 do the stations…how do you use them? Thanks!!

    1. Great question. Some teachers like to use the stations as the initial introduction to the topic and some use it after the topic has been introduced to the class. I feel like either way works. Most of the labs can be completed in a 45 minute class period. There may be some students that don’t have the time, but as long as they were working I don’t have a problem with that. They will get better at the process after you do a couple of them in class. The whole point of the station labs is that it leads to independent learning and there will be a point where the students can just walk in the room and begin with very limited instructions.

  22. Some of my best lab days were when I set up stations! I really like the idea of having set stations to re-use for different activities – helps the students know what to expect on “lab station day”!

    These days I teach at the college level and am brainstorming how to adapt this model to be used in the lecture portion of a science class. College and university instructors don’t have their own classrooms – often wait in the hall for the previous instructor to finish up and then have 5 minutes to turn on the computer for a power point and then start teaching, with 5 minutes at the end of class to clear out for the next instructor.

    I currently teach at a community college and most lectures are in classrooms with 50 student desks, so I could see using envelopes instead of bins. Sometimes, though, we teach in lecture halls where it would be very difficult to have students moving around the room. I can’t imagine how this would be done in a university lecture where 100 or more students fill an introductory science lecture hall!

    It’s great to have such innovative ideas for our K – 12 students, but we need to start thinking about how college students can also move and think and collaborate beyond the 3 students who sit near them each day.

    1. Your classes seem ripe for the flipped classroom model where students do a lot of the learning/exploring at home and then when they get to class they apply the knowledge with meaningful group projects. My favorite class in college was an business class where our professor gave us a benchmark project that was to be completed over the entire semester. We basically showed up for tests, but everything we needed to learn was somewhere in the semester long project. He left past examples for us in the library to use and basically told us there was zero chance of an A unless our project was better than those. I learned more in the class than I probably did in any other.

      1. Yup – we do some flipped classrooms! As with any teaching style, some students like them and others don’t, so a variety is best!

    2. I printed out and glued the stations/task cards to file folders and then laminated them. All of our students have iPads so I upload the “worksheet” and they can complete it and submit it online. No paper!

      1. Which app do you use on the IPad for students to complete the worksheet? Especially the drawing or colouring sections?

  23. I recently purchased your Interactive Notebook bundle, which I am looking forward to adding to my curriculum this school year. The Science Station bundle also looks amazing. I recently completed a week-long training on Personalized Learning. I had been looking for resources to offer students options for both input and output of information. Your lessons are a perfect fit for this.

  24. I have taught for awhile and am intrigued by lab stations you have described. I have purchased some of your bundles as well as your interactive notebook…how often do you do lab stations?

      1. How do you rotate the kids through the stations…especially those that start at the assessment station?

        1. You want to try to start as many possible at the input stations. Double or triple them up if necessary. No one should start at the assessment station unless there has already been some previous knowledge given.

  25. Chris this is very helpful. I am a new teacher and very intrigued with the interactive notebook idea. I have purchased several of your products already and hope to implement them this year.
    Regarding these labs, it seems like none of this information goes in their notebook, rather they fill out a sheet of paper and subsequently turn in. How do you incorporate their science notebooks in these activities?
    Thanks for all you do! It makes a difference!

    1. Correct. They dont go into the INB. I have them turn the sheets in when i return them to the students they out them in a separate 3-ring binder which they keep with them. I keep the INB’s in the room.

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