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Learning Centers
Classroom Management

Learning centers can be used as a way to rotate students through different activities.  Like cooperative groups, this is also a good technique to use when there are a limited number of computers available.  Each student or group of students takes a turn working at a different activity or learning center.  They can rotate through the centers during the course of one class or over a longer period of time.

 

EXAMPLE QUESTIONS RESOURCES

Students use the Stowaway Adventure to track the voyage of a ship at sea over a period of two weeks. The teacher establishes a number of different learning centers for the project which include:

  1. Computer Center: Student use the computer to find current ship coordinates, heading, speed and weather conditions. Based on this information they predict the ship's port of call and the estimated arrival time to this port.

  2. Problem Solving Center: Students practice rate calculations, converting time from one time zone to another, and using a protractor/compass.

  3. Geography Center: Large world map where students update ship's location, identify any nearby areas of interest, and predict next day's route.

  4. Reading and Writing Center: Students write their own ship's logs, compose email letters, or read background information or literature.

  5. Exploration Center: Hands-on activity where students construct and test their own box compass.

Each day the groups work at a different station. At the end of the class time, each group reports on their accomplishments or progress for the day. Some stations have tasks that can be spread out over a period of time (e.g. centers 4 and 5) so students can continue working on those projects every few days.

Consider these questions as you review your project.

  • Can learning centers be used for any parts of the project you have selected? If so, which parts? 

  • What learning centers will be established? 

  • How will the groups be rotated through the centers?

 

Use these resources to help you plan and implement the use of learning centers.

Online Resources

Stevens Developed Content

Designing Learning Center Activities
One of the most significant changes in instruction that learning centers bring to the classroom is the need for multiple lessons that will be implemented simultaneously at each station.  The added challenge here is that students will not work on the lessons in the same order since they will all start at different stations and rotate around.  This means that one lesson cannot depend on another since you cannot be sure that a given group has already gone through a prerequisite lesson at a different learning station.  When developing learning centers it is always important to keep this issue in mind and to come up with lessons that are not dependent on one another.  For example, if you were developing a set of learning centers for use with the Stowaway Adventure you would not want to make one of the stations collecting ship data and another station the analysis of that data.  If you did try this you would run into trouble when one of the groups who had yet to collect ship data got to the station at which they needed to do the analysis since they would have no data to analyze.

Another important aspect of designing your learning centers concerns the length of time students spend at each station.  Some approaches have students rotating through all of the stations within one class period of approximately 50 minutes.  From a technology perspective this is nice because it allows all of the students time on the computers (provided they are one of the stations) within the same class period.  Especially for younger grades this can be important since often students all want their turn on the computers.  The downside to this is that the time spent at each station is very small.  With five stations you would have only ten minutes per station.  This is hardly enough time to accomplish even a small task.  In addition, if a problem is encountered, such as a computer crashing, the time it takes to get back up and running can really throw off your schedule.  A better approach is to give each group a full class period at each station.  Although this means you will need to develop more extensive lessons for each station it will greatly enhance the impact the technique has on the students.

Keeping Things Organized
By nature, using learning centers requires a more open classroom in which many different activities can be taking place at the same time.  If you have not prepared properly this can easily lead to chaos in the classroom which can interfere with the learning process.  Here are a few things you can do to keep things organized while utilizing learning center:

 

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Group #1

Car/Ramp Experiment

Research

Practice Data Analysis Sheets

Collecting Internet Data

Whole Class Presentations

Group #2

Collecting Internet Data

Practice Data Analysis Sheets

Research

Car/Ramp Experiment

Whole Class Presentations

Group #3

Practice Data Analysis Sheets

Collecting Internet Data

Car/Ramp Experiment

Research

Whole Class Presentations

Group #4

Research

Car/Ramp Experiment

Collecting Internet Data

Practice Data Analysis Sheets

Whole Class Presentations

When To Use Learning Centers
Learning Centers are often best used in mid-size to large classrooms with between 4-6 computers.  The size of the classroom is a factor because of the need to reorganize the classroom configuration of desks and chairs.  You will want to separate the learning stations enough so that the students can work at them without disturbing others.  Often a good configuration is to have centers in each corner of the room and then one or two in the middle.  The numbers of computers is important because you need to utilized them as part of one of the stations.  If you have groups of 5 students each and want them each to be able to use a computer then you would need at least 5 computers for your station.  Thus, the number of computers usually needs to be the same as the number students per group if you want to utilize learning centers.  You can double students up on computers but this can diminish the impact of using the technology.  Finally, Learning Centers can be especially effective if you need to cover a number of prerequisite skills prior to starting work on a project.  Prerequisite skills lend themselves to this classroom management model because each skills does not dependent on the others and thus they make ideal activities for learning stations.

What to Expect the First Time
I wanted to just end by emphasizing that using Learning Centers is often not easy when you first attempt it.  You have to keep in the back of your mind the idea that it is not just a new approach to instruction for you but also, in most cases, for the students.  You should expect that it will take time for them to get used to it and develop an understanding of what is expected of them.  The first time around should be viewed as an experiment during which you expect things to not go as smoothly as you would like.  This is just part of the learning process and should be seen that way.  Remember, a mistake is only a failure if you don't learn from it.  You may also wish to start small and expand your use of Learning Centers over time.  This will allow your students to adjust to the new instructional process.


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Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education, All Rights Reserved