My first attempt at stations in MS

Well, yesterday I tried offering my seventh graders activities in a station format for the first time.  We had just finished reviewing properties, after reviewing order of operations and evaluating expressions.  So, my primary goal was to give them practice with properties.  My secondary goal was to introduce the concept of stations.  A tertiary goal was some review of order of operations and expressions.  On reflection, that’s a lot of goals for one 45 minute class!

There were six stations available.  I split the students into groups of 2, which meant seven groups per class. One station was a scavenger hunt with QR codes that I got from TPT.   Two stations were card sorts, one on the distributive property and another on all different properties.  (The first I got from the #MTBoS, the second was TPT.)  The last 3 stations were worksheets from the Marcy Mathworks Pre-Algebra book, one on order of operations, one on expressions, and one on properties. (I would prefer fewer worksheets, but there are only so many hours in a day that I can use to prep lessons.)

To begin, I introduced students to the stations by telling them the topic and format of each activity.  I suggested that they choose which topic they most needed to practice.  Everyone wanted to start with the scavenger hunt, because they got to use their iPads, so I had to limit that to one or two groups at a time, assuring them that between two class days of these stations, everyone would get a chance to do it.  Then I had them choose an activity and get to work.

The students were engaged and seemed to be having productive learning time.  I did not have an answer key available for either card sort, so I checked them myself.  I know stations are supposed to be self-checking so I can do small group instruction, but I just didn’t get that far this time.  I wanted to monitor the class anyway, since it was my first try at this, so it was no trouble to check their cards when they were done.  I did take pictures of the correct solutions, thinking I would create answer keys from the pictures.  However, when I looked at them later, the poor quality of the pictures and the amount of glare on the laminated cards made me reconsider.

Overall I was very happy with the experience.  I added two additional stations for Monday’s class.  One is an open middle problem where students write twelve different expressions using the same four numbers but with different operations to equal twelve different (specified) results.  The other is another self-checking worksheet.  I have a third card sort all laminated, but I haven’t had time to cut it out.  (I have several hours of cutting to do, I need to bring it home and watch a movie while I cut out cards!)

I plan to do a similar activity with my sixth graders the week after next.  In their case, I will order the stations and have everyone start with station one, then progress through the stations to ones with higher levels of difficulty.  The last station is a “reward” color by number activity.  I definitely found more work than I think any one student can finish.  However, that is a bonus, because then if someone needs additional activities for remediation, I can just use a station they haven’t done yet.

I think this is a nice format to use for the skills practice that is a necessary supplement to my problem-based learning activities. It gives the kids some choice in their learning and the ability to work at their own pace.  And eventually it will give me the option of doing short-lived ability groupings with small group instruction for remediation and enrichment.

Thanks to @j_rodricks1 for hosting me at Morton Ranch Elementary (Katy ISD, Houston) last spring to see stations in action, and to Dr. Troutman @RiceUSMP for teaching me more about how to implement stations when I took her Summer Math Camp in June.

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