I have finished year one of a Learning Center style environment in my 6th grade Ancient World History class at a magnet school of the arts. There were 85 students assigned to 5 classes with class size ranging from 11 to 21. My students have access to a class set of 11" MacBook Airs every class period and have the option to use their personal devices during class. Once the kinks were ironed out at the beginning of the year my students enjoyed internet access more than 95% of the time; even during periods of state mandated computer-based testing.
My initial ideas for my Learning Environment was written in a blog post in August 2015 and can be found here ---> A Centers Approach to Learning .
Using learning centers enabled me to have flexibility in the manner in which I deliver content and it removes me from the center of the learning process and places the student in control of their learning. I would give them an activity or guiding questions and it was up to them to decide how they were going to find the information or complete the activity.
Having a Learning Management System (LMS) is an important part of the process. Yes, you could have instructions written out for each station, but having an LMS enables you to be able to supply links to content available on the internet. I like to provide the links to basic information, like the kind that is available on Wikipedia and then encourage students to find other information that takes their learning deeper. It also gives me the chance to link to applications our interactive maps that makes learning engaging. I use Schoology, but systems like Edmodo or Google Classroom will complete the same tasks. You should talk to other teachers at your school to see what they are using as uniformity is important for the kids. You do not want your kids having to log into numerous systems to complete the same basic tasks.
Class Size Matters
I have a five center rotation, which means I have five groups of kids that rotate through the centers and when the kids complete all five then they complete the cycle. Initially, i was going to have the kids rotate every 20 minutes, but once the centers started happening I noticed that each center usually lasted for one class period so I fell into a center cycle lasting for one five day week ... sometimes longer. With having five groups working it is important that each group has enough people to work as a group. The classes with around 20 kids had higher quality group activities. The small class struggled during centers that required collaboration or group discussions. When I planned to have group type activities I altered the grouping of the student so there would be more students per group rather than having five groups and this helped. This year I am hoping to work with administration so I can have four balanced classes and maybe pick up an extra elective.
The Creation Station was a really cool station as it was a spot in which students created something that went along with the learning. I could say this station replaced the "project board/diorama" assignment, but with a little kick. Students were given the opportunity to create videos, music, or art to represent their learning. This was also the station in which we used Minecraft to re-create ancient civilizations. Many of the kids enjoyed the opportunity to learn as they played. Building pyramids, temples, homes, and farms as they built their civilization made specific memories tied to their learning. Something that I would like to add to this station is an enhanced reflective piece where think about how it ties into history and what they liked about their creation and how they could make it better.
Something is Missing
I like how all the activities stem from the standards being covered and that is the common link, but I think I want to add some sort of capstone project to the learning center cycle. Each center making a contribution to the final "project". I am thinking this because as I watched the students complete the center activities there were some who finished quick, some who waited to work because they knew how long it would take the to complete, and some who just took a little longer to complete the assignment. If I had the capstone project than students would have something to move onto while waiting for other students to complete other tasks. It also add another dimension to the learning. Maybe it could be a long term project that students could be working on through out the school year. This is still a work in progress, but it something I hope to add the learning process.
These are some of my initial reflection thought on using Learning Centers this year and I reserve the right to write another post with more thoughts.
Please let me know what you think.