This is my 9th year teaching in a computer lab. Often teachers ask me how I handle classroom management in a lab or a one-to-one environment. Here are some of the tips I give to colleagues, from basic and broad to insider tips that I developed personally.
1. Assign each student a computer: Whether you are teaching a class or just visiting the lab for a day, students need to feel ownership of their computer, and it is necessary for accountability. One-to-one you say? Awesome!
2. Number your Computers: You can either number them straight out, I printed out stickers and placed them in the corners of their screens, or put different playing cards on their computers. But if you number them it’s easy to tell students where to move when changing seats or rotating around the classroom. One-to-one? Attach an extra student id to their computer case.
3. Classroom management utility: I use LanSchool to monitor, control, and show students’ screens. I can freeze their screens, show students what is on my screen, take control of individual students’ screens, as well as send students material. It is very powerful when i want to teach an incremental skill and I can display my computer screen on each of their computers. There are a lot more features too. LanSchool was purchased by our district. There are open source utilities which I haven’t used myself. Here’s one with a lot of great reviews for Linux and Windows: iTalc.
4. Give students a warm up task: In my computer lab students spend the first 6 minutes practicing their typing skills. I really like Typing Club for this purpose. Check out my post on encouraging keyboarding progress. You could also have students come in and fill out a form, read an excerpt or do a search with Google’s search a day activity. The goal is to give them a short task to engage them into learning in the first few minutes. Warm ups are just as important in the computer lab as they are in any other situation.
5. Chunk the Time into manageable pieces: Humans like small chunks of activities. They get bored (or lack focus) when they have ample time on their hands. Need to teach them to type? 6 minute skills practice, then discuss, then another 10 minutes practice while walking around and motivating. After which have them do a practice test, while teaching other important skills (like a screen shot of their score at the end). Then have them e-mail you the test score with a goal and a reflection of their typing. Finally have them play a typing game at the end. Keep the activities short, no more than 12-15 minutes at the extreme end.
6. Display a digital countdown clock: Display the timer so students see how much time they have to do an activity. It is great for short and long activities. Activities with time limits motivate students to get them complete and stay on task. Google has a fine one at: Google Countdown Timer. I usually use Online Stop Watch.
7. Have clear procedures and stick to them: Normal classroom management stuff. Students need routines and procedures. Don’t get lazy because there is computer equipment. I’ve seen teachers go into a computer lab and feel that since the computers are engaging, structure is not needed. Structure is as much than in your regular classroom (arguably more). Otherwise computers become distractions. What’s the procedure for entering the room? Printing? Leaving the room? Can students listen to music? What do they do when they finish early? Can they get out of their seats? What’s the volume level of your class? How do you handle off task behavior (game playing? etc?)
8. Use the clapping rhythm signal: There’s a lot of signals that work. This one is great when you want to redirect activities. The reason the clapping back works great in a computer lab is that students are forced to remove their hands from the mice and keyboard to clapback the signal. It’s brilliant!
9. Have students save to the cloud: When students save to their own computer, havoc ensues when you change your seating chart. By having students save to the cloud it doesn’t matter what computer they are sitting out. Our district recently got Google Apps which allows my students access to Google Drive. Depending on whether the school has any additional funding, you can use a HostGator Cyber Monday Deal 2016 coupon to get cheap servers to create networks on. Some districts have their own networks and servers which serves as an alternative to this.
10. Keep your knowledge current: Technology changes rapidly, by the time you read this blog, there may be something new and exciting to transform your classroom that you may want to use. Constantly be on the lookout for a new gem. You could do this by staying active in a Twitter or Google circle as well as reading materials and or attending conferences. I recommend either ISTE or CUE conferences.