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Wanna Chat? Reasons why my Chat Lab Stations are working!



The Background Story: A few years ago, I wanted to do something different on the first day of school. Most of the teachers at my school, including me, were doing the same thing all daylong ... Going over the course syllabus, passing out textbooks, reading the dreaded classroom rules.  After one class period of this, all that the students heard was "Blah, blah, blah...."  It was definitely time for me to do something different.  After giving it much thought, "Science Chat" was born.  My goals for the activity were simple:
(1) Get the kids actively engaged in science so they don't dread coming to my class the next day, and (2) Help the students make new friends in our very large school.   These goals were accomplished!  In fact, the activity was so popular with my biology students that I quickly developed Chemistry Chat for my chem classes.


Science Chat for Biology

Chemistry Chat

Physics Chat

What is the purpose of my "Chat" lab activities? My "Chat" activities involve lab stations and cooperative student groups.  Students work together to solve a problem, complete a task and/or carry out a small science experiment at each lab station.  I use the word "chat" to emphasize to my students that they are to work together and have a productive discussion at each lab station in order to maximize their understanding and mastery of the concepts being covered.  Let's face it.  Middle and high school students have "socializing" on their minds all day long.  The use of the word "chat" is compelling to them, and it has a "fun" tone.

What are the benefits of my Chat Lab Stations?

1.  Students are up, out of their seats, and moving!  It is a rare student that can sit in a desk for eight hours and still be conscious at the end of the day.  Chat lab stations allow students to move around the room, giving them a bit of a mental break between each station.

2.  Group work is an important part of what we do in a science class, and it is a skill that will be needed throughout life. Lab station activities teach students how to work together to achieve a goal.

3. Differentiation! We all teach classes that contain students of widely-varying ability levels.  It is not necessary for every student to complete every lab station.  For students with IEP's, have them complete only the stations that are appropriate for them. By carefully selecting the small groups, you can create groups that are supportive and will provide an educational atmosphere that will benefit all members of the group. It is also a good idea to have a "challenge" lab station for the early finishers.  I never want idle hands in my classroom!

4.  All too often we throw so much information at the students that they quickly become overwhelmed by sheer volume.  Each chat lab station focuses on a single task or concept. This prevents students from becoming overwhelmed by too much information.

5.  Peer teaching/tutoring is highly effective! A struggling student may likely learn more from a fellow student than they do from the teacher. One student can offer another student explanations in a low pressure setting that feels safe to the struggling student.

6.  The more informal classroom setting allows me more time to interact with my students.  I love being able to walk around the room and speak to every student.  It allows me to connect with the student, both personally and academically. Secondary students may not show the same affection for their teachers as do elementary students, but they still want to be noticed, complimented, and see a friendly smile from the teacher.

Tips for Implementation!
1. Consider very carefully how the students are arranged into groups.  I never (or rarely) allow students to choose their own lab groups.  Do I want the students to have a little "chat" or social time during the activity?  Yes, but I want to control it.  I want my students chatting, but I want them chatting about the topics and concepts that I need to teach and reinforce.  Before my students arrive in my class, I have already placed them in groups.  Each week I change the composition of the groups.  This prevents the students from becoming too comfortable and failing to accomplish the goals of the lesson.

2. Make sure that your lab stations offer a good mix of teaching styles and strategies.  You don't want students labeling a diagram at every single station.  They will quickly lose interest in the activity.  Make sure that each station offers a different sort of task or activity.

3. Make sure that each station is independent of the other stations. The activity works so much better if students can rotate from one station to another in any order. If the stations have to be completed in a certain order, a lab traffic jam will likely result.

4. Monitor the students!  Make sure that students are on task..... all period long!  

After developing Science Chat years ago, I have continued to expand on the idea of chat lab stations.  The photos below will give you a short preview of Microscope Chat, Mitosis Chat, and Ecology Chat.



Let's continue the "converstation" in the comments section below.  I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas about what has worked successfully in your own classrooms.  Thanks for stopping by, and have fun teaching!

"Words to Live By" from Famous Scientists




These famous scientists teach us about life as well as about science.

#KindnessNation
#WeHoldTheseTruths



We teach about the work of famous scientists all the time in our classes.  If you take one of my classes, then it is a given that you know that Jonas Salk developed a life-saving polio vaccine, that Stephen Hawking changed the way we think about our universe, that Jane Goodall works tirelessly on behalf of her beloved chimpanzees, and that nothing makes sense in a biology class without the work of Charles Darwin.   These people made (and make) tremendous contributions to various fields of study, but they also have a "human" side.  They teach us not only about science, but about human nature, about the value of hard work, about tolerance and acceptance, and about the importance of perseverance, never giving up, and never losing hope.

Click image to download free mini-posters.
With this in mind, I have developed a set of classroom mini-posters highlighting quotes from scientists that offer words of wisdom.  This is a "forever free" product in my TeachersPayTeachers store.  All of the mini-posters print out on 8.5 x 11 sized paper.  They can be quickly laminated and used to make a bulletin board or wall display.  As our students sit in our classes and look about the room, hopefully their eyes will land on one of these posters and provide them with the inspiration to succeed and overcome the hurdles of life.

So, what's up with the hashtags?  I am honored to join a large group of teacher-authors on TpT in this hashtag event to provide lots and lots of free classroom materials for all subjects and grade levels.  The idea is to provide a wealth of free materials that teach and reinforce character, kindness, tolerance, anti-bullying, empathy, inclusion, and equality for all.  Let's face it ... 2016 was a very difficult year for our nation.  Regardless of your beliefs, opinions or convictions, teachers need materials to bring out the best in our students.  This hashtag event will offer "forever free" materials that are not political in nature, but rather offer quality life lessons.

Here is a sample of the mini-posters.



Be sure to search on TpT, Facebook, and Instagram for these hashtags:  #KindnessNation and #WeHoldTheseTruths.  

This blog post is part of the Secondary Smorgasbord Blog Hop event.  As always, thanks to Darlene Anne Curran (The ELA Buffet) and Pamela Kranz (Desktop Learning Adventures) for hosting this event!  


Motivating Science Students

Consider these points when developing a plan to motivate your students.

As we begin this new semester, I have been giving some thought to the concept of “motivation in the classroom.”   We teachers hold widely varying opinions on this subject.  Some teachers believe whole-heartedly that it is their job to do whatever it takes to gets the students excited and motivated about the learning process.  Other teachers feel that motivation comes from within, and that the student should be held responsible for their own motivation.  I think most teachers, including myself, fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.

How hard we must work to motivate our students is directly proportional to the classes we teach.  Every student in our school must take a Biology 1 class, and many of them have no interest in doing so.   But the students in my AP Biology course enroll by choice, and the difference is huge!   My Biology 1 students are often less enthusiastic on the front end of the experience.  I may never convince some of my students to love biology and chemistry as I do, but it is my job as a classroom teacher to instill in my students the desire to succeed.  To that end, I have identified four factors intrinsic to the healthy motivation of students in the science classroom.

We cannot expect students to be willing to learn unless we as teachers are energetic in our approach to instruction.  Students will be more engaged if they see us up, moving about the classroom and burning calories.  Science teachers in a laboratory setting have an advantage.  Demonstrating lively behavior in a lab is built in to the demands of helping and watching students.  We must be careful that lecture opportunities do not turn into a chance to rest.  Don’t be the teacher that sits behind the desk the entire class period.  Your desk is a barrier between you and your students.  Moving amongst your students while you teach will draw them in.  It will encourage them to be engaged and participate more fully in the lesson.

It is essential that some element of fun be attached to instruction.  This does not have to be joke telling or game playing.  A bit of eye candy in the form of colorful and engaging photos or interesting video, or the occasional social opportunity (grouping) will go a long way toward helping a student look forward to returning to your class.  Occasionally the material we must teach doesn't rise to the level of thrilling and exhilarating, but since it must be taught, we should try to find a way to make it more interesting to our students.  A competitive game format, a lab station activity, or a lively class discussion can go a long way to eliminating the boredom factor.  It is imperative that we change our approach from time to time to avoid monotony and stagnation.


Praising students will go a long way towards motivating them.  It is, however, important to note the methodology used when praising them.  Elementary students find more incentive in public praise than do high school students.  It is often necessary to praise high school students individually and not in front of the class.  To older kids, the “cool factor” is sometimes affected by how they are praised.  Know your kids.


The final step in motivating students is to show them the relevance in what they are being asked to do.  Sometimes that relevance is personal (college admission, testing for scholarships, simple work ethic) and sometimes it is professional (job centric subject matter).  Occasional reminders as to the importance of these issues will help, especially considering how many important issues are vying for control of the teenage mind.  Students love to ask, “When will I ever need to know this?”  Making clear to students why they need to master a particular concept or skill is highly motivating to them.  Make this information part of the lesson, rather than waiting for the question to be asked.

In the ideal world, all motivation for students would be “self motivation.” Anything we as teachers can do to help students maintain focus will surely pay dividends in their future.