So many times I’m asked for suggestions how to manage student use of the classroom computers. Many of you have talked with me about wanting your students to use the computers for meaningful learning, but you’re just not sure of the best way to go about it. I tend to give the same general advice each time, so I thought I’d share it for everyone who might be interested.
Start by deciding how you want to manage the rotation of students at the computers. It’s important to keep in mind that classroom computer use shouldn’t be just for the “smart” kids, or the ones who finish their work early. Classroom computers should be looked at as a learning tool for all children. So how do you manage getting all of your students onto the two or four computers in your classroom? That’s going to depend on both the make-up of your class, and your teaching style. There’s no one right way!
One option is to have a list of students posted by the computer. Students simply go to the computer in sequential order, crossing their name off the list when their turn is over. Another option is to assign groups of students to each day of the week. Post the lists so students don’t have to keep asking if they can go the computer that day. Keep in mind that they don’t have to work independently on the computers, let them collaborate with partners or in small groups. Collaboration can be a good opportunity to pair stronger and weaker students, too. Look at the make-up of your class and decide what will work best. Remember, you don’t need to have all of your students use the computer in one day, or even in one week. It might take you a week or two weeks to cycle students through. Once you know how you want to rotate the students to the computers, it’s time to decide when they’ll use them. Ideally, anytime you’re not doing a direct teach to the whole class is the perfect time! If this doesn’t work for your teaching style, then set some specific time aside each day. Remember, they’re not just playing on the computer, and it’s not just for those who finish early. They’re learning!
You might want to start by showing students how to do the activity or use the website you are assigning to them. You could show the whole class at once on the SmartBoard, or just a small group, or individual students at the computer. In some cases, consider having students responsible for teaching each other. One child might be doing the project while the next is sitting beside him/her “on deck,” learning by watching.
When you set the expectation that computer time is a learning activity, students tend to quietly go to the computer when its their turn, complete their task, return to their seat and continue working. It’s possible that a student who completed their computer project might not get all of the class work done during the assigned time. That’s okay! You can give them more time, you can shorten the assignment, etc… There are many possibilities. Do what is best for your class, but keep in mind that they were working; they were just working on something else.
The next step is to decide what activity/activities you want the students to do on the computer. Remember, you generally want to reinforce or expand knowledge with an activity based on what you are teaching right now. But, there are times when a student may need reinforcement on a previously taught concept. Think of computer center activities as micro-integration lessons, which the students complete without teacher help. The activity could be something with a traditional application like Kidspiration, KidPix, Pages or Keynote, or it could be skills reinforcement on a website linked from their K-2 or 3-5 start page.
Planning is the key to success! When you’re working on lesson plans you might get an idea about something the students can do with the computers. Or, look at the ideas on the Integration Resources. There are often more lesson options than just the assured experiences. Feel free to ask me if you need an idea, too. Once you get comfortable with the computer center concept you can even plan different activities for different groups of students based on their needs; technology is a perfect tool for differentiation.
Start slow, give yourself and your students time to learn and grow through the use of the computer center activities. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and realize it might not flow very smoothly the first few times you try it. You may have to make adjustments to what you’re doing based on your first few tries. Talk with your colleagues about what is and is not working. Share your ideas with each other! Most importantly, remember to ask for help if you need it!