The Role of Learning Centers in Science Education


Learning centers are areas in classrooms or labs that offer activities meant to engage, enhance and differentiate learning by reinforcing concepts and offering problem-solving tasks to help develop critical thinking, independence and cooperation. They can be used for any subject and are particularly well suited to science classrooms.

Why Use Learning Centers?

Research shows that when learning centers are aligned with individual ability levels, student motivation increases along with attention. Learning centers can also provide students with the opportunity to use multiple intelligences.

What Do Learning Centers Look Like?

Learning centers typically focus on specific skills or strategies and review activities or inquiry, but they may also include enrichment activities that extend the curriculum. For example, a rock study learning center for lower grades could offer rock samples, reference guides, review games and more. For higher grades, an osmosis learning center might include visual guides, multimedia tutorials, a lab activity, and a vocabulary review. Learning centers can be elaborate, but simple ones may be just as effective.

The design of a learning center should be based on the following questions:

  • What are my instructional purposes?
  • What concepts, skills or themes do I want to support?
  • How will centers fit into my space and schedule?  
  • What student interactions will I expect?
  • What activities will provide for the use of multiple intelligences?
  • How is accountability for the activities managed?

When Are Learning Centers Used?

Learning centers are often used during small group instruction to provide a meaningful and engaging way for students to work independently. They can also serve as anchor activities for students who finish quizzes or activities early, or as end-of-the-day activities.

Learning centers can be embedded into almost any instructional framework to include scripted syllabuses, a workshop approach, inquiry-based blocked instruction, constructivist approaches or the 5E model (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate).

How Are Learning Centers Managed for Effectiveness?

Successful learning centers require planning that incorporates many decisions, including:

  • How will the schedule accommodate the centers?
  • How many students can use each center at the same time?
  • How will students understand the expectations for each center?
  • How will students who need assistance be accommodated?
  • What methods will students use to record their answers or results?

A scaffolded approach to introducing learning centers is central to their success. When a new center is introduced, expectations should be clearly presented. Teachers should model these expectations and review them over the first few days, examine what is going well and identify areas for improvement.