I had been seeing great ideas online about STEM centers in the classroom and was admittedly a bit jealous of the ease of incorporating something like this for a math-science classroom. At first, I had no ideas for how to make an application space like this in my language arts classroom. Once I began thinking and researching, though, it became apparent that regardless of what subject you teach, you could easily make a discovery center in your classroom.
Discovery centers are important spaces in our classroom. They should be an area where students are eager to come and learn something new–no teachers, assignments, or tests involved. Just pure fun and learning! Including an area like this in your classroom shows that you value learning, exploration, and the content you teach. It gives kids another way to connect with the content you teach and I’ve found it’s a good way to reel in those students who seem to want nothing to do with your subject. Think of it like hiding broccoli in a really yummy casserole; with enough cheese, I hear kids will eat just about anything!
For my classroom, I wanted a separate space that kids would feel it was a privilege to hang out. I envisioned it being a place that they would beg to be at; they’d want to leave lunch to eat here and they’d want to spend time here once their work was finished during study hall. So, during the summer, I re-purposed an older oak high-top table into an adorable farmhouse writing center for my classroom. You could definitely use a normal student desk, a small circular desk, or perhaps even create a discovery box or tray that contains materials that kids can unpack like a toolbox.
Here are some basic ideas for what you could put at this discovery area depending on your subject area:
Math: math blocks, cubes, word problems, calculators, graph paper, math card games
Science: building blocks, tinker gadgets (for building things), legos, nature supplies, research articles
Social Studies: news magazines such as Scholastic, trivia questions, maps, atlas, a laptop for research
Reading: Your favorite short stories, vocab flip books, flashcards, word games
Language Arts: stationary, gel pens, story starters, word games, madlibs
When I began to offer this area, my sign-up sheet was full to the brim during the first day! My kids were so excited to work at it, share stories, write letters, and play word games. It made me thrilled to see that taking a hands-off approach allowed them to simply explore, discover, and learn.
It makes me think a little about evaluating our students… seeing them learn so much at this area with so little pressure makes me wonder how much more they could learn without our constant assessments. That, my friends, is perhaps for a different post. 🙂 Happy Discovering!