In the last few weeks many of you have talked with me about wanting your students to use the classroom computers as a center for meaningful learning, but you’re just not sure of the best way to go about it. This blog post is a repost of one from last December, with some new ideas and pictures added in.
First, 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. 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!
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. You may also want to use the computer center to cover topics in which some students need reinforcement. 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, it could be an online activity like a word cloud, or it could be skills reinforcement on a website linked from their K-2 or 3-5 start page. Ideally, computer center activities should take between 5 – 15 mn., depending on the grade.
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 our Integration Resources website and in the Technology Templates folder in your grade level share folder. Also, feel free to ask me if you need an idea. 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!
Don’t forget that if you don’t see what you like or need, you can create activities. A perfect example is this activity created by Laura Sorensen at Wheeler for her third grade students. She created it in Kidspiration, saved it as a template, and placed it in her class folder inside the third grade share folder. Click on it to view full size.
I suggest that you introduce whole class computer center activities to the students by using the SmartBoard. If you’re going to have small groups doing different activities, introduce the activities to each small group at the computer center.
Make use of your classroom computer experts. Chances are a student or two will have questions while you’re working with a student one on one or in a small group. Post a list of 2 or 3 computer helpers that students can go to when they can’t ask you.
Help build your students’ technology independence. Write various center reminders on index cards, and tape to the computer, but not on the monitor. Give students directions how/where to save, how/where to print, and how to find templates or websites. You might also want to add any special direction reminders for the activity.
Here’s how it can all look when taped around the computer:
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!