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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!