School Computer Lab Rules Part 1

Managing Technology in Elementary Schools

Why does any teacher need computer lab rules?

Now this is "engagement"

Now this is “engagement”

Because turning your little gremlins loose in an unstructured computer playground is a certain recipe for a migraine headache…and a solemn vow to never try teaching with technology again.

We don’t want that, of course; aside from the fact that our students need to learn to use tech effectively, they also love it. Teaching with technology is highly engaging and a great way to keep kids excited about curriculum. So let’s figure out how to keep our sanity on our trips to the elementary school computer lab to get the most out of this resource.

Two important notes before we get started

First: As more and more testing becomes computer based, it is critical for your students to be exposed to the lab and learn good, ingrained habits for using technology in elementary schools. Aside from becoming comfortable with the lab as a testing environment, they need to get over their “Wow…play time!” attitudes.

Second: I’m focused on the lab here because this is a resource that many schools have…and it is the one place in most schools where you are trying to manage 25 to 30 students on their own computers at the same time. These classroom behavior management steps can be applied to using laptops in the classroom as well.

Ready for some teaching with technology? It’s time for a productive trip to the elementary school computer lab.

Computer Lab Rules

I’ll go step-by-step through the process.

Before you go

Get in the right order before leaving your room. Have the students line up in “lunch line order” (alphabetical by last name) before you walk out the door to the elementary school computer lab. Why? Because keeping students in the same order every time you go removes their expectation that they can scramble for their perceived “best seat” near their friends when they get there. “Scrambling” around a jungle of cords is never recommended!

Bring non-computer class work and books. Keep in mind that you may have students who will not be using a computer while in the lab. This can occur for two reasons:

  1. They have not finished other work. If this is the case, they need to put their work on a clipboard and bring it down with them. As critical as technology in elementary schools is, a trip to the lab is still a bit of a privilege; if a student is failing to complete other critical work, they don’t get to simply forget about it.
  2. Finishing the work while others are using the computers is sort of like making up homework while missing recess; it teaches a memorable lesson in applying oneself that usually only takes one session to sink in.

  3. They misbehave. After I set expectations in the lab, they are in a “no warning” environment. There is simply too much damage (to operating systems and devices) that can occur from mischief. If they don’t meet computer lab rules, they sit at the table at the back of the room. Bring some books for those students to occupy themselves.

Checking out the station

These instructions relate to a lab with laptops; if your elementary school computer lab has desktop computers, there will be fewer steps, such as not opening and closing the lids.

Students file into the lab and stand behind their chairs. No touching yet!

Everyone checks their station. This is like checking out a rental car for existing damage before driving off the lot; it protects from being blamed for damage inflicted by a prior user.

  • Is the mouse present?
  • Are cords plugged in?
  • Are cords closed in the lid?

This helps familiarize students with the mechanics of hooking up a computer (where do things plug in?) and is also a good reminder that others will be reviewing their usage later.

But I don't know enough to break it that badly!

But I don’t know enough to break it that badly!

If there is a problem, students raise their hands and you correct it before the class can move on to the next step.

NOTE: no one is sitting down yet!

Teaching with technology: getting started

Give your students instructions. For example:

Sit down, power on and log into the typing program. Go.

They then carefully pull out their chairs and proceed.

Don’t Overload Their Brains!

Make your computer lab rules more effective by never giving instructions for more than two steps at a time…three at the most. Your students will simply be too excited to remember more than that.

You may find that you can speed up this “getting started” process at some point. But in the beginning, your students must do each step with full compliance to clearly set expectations.

But the first time there, you must do each of these steps one a time with full compliance to clearly set teaching-with-technology expectations. Sounds a lot like this expectation setting process that I favor, doesn’t it? Or even this one for lining up.

Starting to see a pattern for effective classroom behavior management? Computer lab rules are no exception.

Computers all on? Next is headphones. Headphones really make a difference in student focus in the elementary school computer lab…especially during testing. And the students can still hear your instructions. I highly recommend them.

Here are the computer lab rules for headphones:

  • Pick them up with two hands
  • Hold them with two hands
  • Put them on your head with two hands
  • Adjust them while they are on your head
  • Wear them over both ears at the same time
  • Wear them over the top of the head, not under the chin
  • Adjust the volume
NOTE: If equipped with a cord volume adjustment, turn the sound on the laptop all the way up.

Accessing sites, programs, etc.

Your district computer and network architecture (the way things are set up) will likely determine how you can access resources. But just in case you are on your own, here are some ideas.

    No random searching allowed!

    No random searching allowed!

  • Set up links to allowed-sites in folders on a shared drive and place a shortcut to the folder on the desktop or train students to navigate there through the “my computer” menu.
  • If each classroom in your building has a folder on shared drive, you can create student folders within it and place thing they need to work on there (for example, a blank PowerPoint template). Of course, they can just launch the program and start a new project, but think about where they are going to save it when done.
  • You can provide the resources they need on a USB drive. This would work for a few students but would be tedious to prepare for an entire classroom.
  • Old school but effective: Post web addresses on the whiteboard or a poster.
One of the most frustrating things you’ll hear in the lab is “The link is gone!” That means the class before you was having some fun deleting or hiding shortcuts on the desktop. There are very inexpensive programs for locking down a desktop so links cannot be removed. Ask your IT department about this if it becomes an ongoing problem.

Get your computer lab success checklist and a computer lab rules poster.

Go to Part 2

Managing Technology in Elementary Schools

Now that we’ve got our students following computer lab rules and working on their assignments (part 1 has those details) , let’s talk about a technique for handling the overwhelming experience getting 30 elementary students started on computers at the same time.

Give yourself the best chance to succeed

It’s like a math problem: 30 excited students x 30 computers = _____. I think many of us could fill in the blank with “chaos” or “teacher meltdown.” If this describes your answer to this equation, don’t avoid the lab…help yourself by working up to it.

Excited? Oh yeah! I'm not even allowed to touch this at home!

Excited? Oh yeah! I’m not even allowed to touch this at home!

Arm each of your students with a book before they leave your classroom and set the expectation that they will be taking turns to log on…and if they complain, they might get to go last.

After seating them, help the first row (or as many as you are comfortable with) get started while the rest read. Move on until the entire class is ready to go.

NOTE: Rotate the starting group the next time our you’ll have a mutiny!

Be sure to have your students start on a self-paced instruction site, such as a typing tutorial. This will diminish the questions from the first group while you get the next group going.

After three times, your students will be familiar enough with the process that you will be able to manage all of them at once.

Computer Lab Rules: Managing Student Work

So they are up and running…and now you are too – literally! There probably shouldn’t even be a seat for the teacher in an elementary school computer lab. Managing technology in elementary schools requires a teacher to always be circulating, answering questions and providing assistance.

Keep your regular classroom rules in effect. My biggest one is that students must raise their hands for assistance but must not “Mrs. Weigle!” me to death…or at all. I assist students with raised hands and ignore those who are calling to me (they know the rule).

Computer labs are question factories…protect your sanity at all costs!

You can save yourself some questions by projecting the next step or other explanatory information on a screen in the room. Think about how to expand teaching with technology to all elements of a lesson…even to the process of computer usage.

Recruiting student assistants

Don’t hesitate to rely on a those kids in your class who just “get it.” To these students, the way computers and programs and websites do things are naturally understandable. They sense the patterns. They are your helpers in the elementary school computer lab…send them around to help/catch kids up as needed. They’ll be eager to show off their mastery, but make sure they have time to finish their own work as well.

They know more than you think...

They know more than you think…

Your percentage of “helpers” will increase with grade level…don’t count on having any to start with in the primary grades, but keep an eye out for those who catch on very quickly.

And a final reminder about maintaining high compliance with elementary school computer lab rules: The first time a student doesn’t follow the expectations you have set …to the back of the room they go to read their book for the rest of the class.

Technology in Elementary Schools: Lesson Planning

One thing we don’t want to do is schedule computer lab time for an hour of “Do whatever you want as long as it is educational.” Technology integration in the classroom is much too important to use the lab for Friday afternoon play time.

So a lesson plan is just as important in the computer room as in the classroom.

Your “teaching with technology” lesson plan for the lab is actually pretty straightforward. A very typical one might be:

  • 5 minutes to get started (after all students know the computer lab rules)
  • 15 minutes of a typing-instruction program
  • 20 – 30 minutes on a project (research, PowerPoint slide show, etc.)
NOTE: A project such as a PowerPoint would require it’s own lesson plan…or should be part of the lesson plan for the particular curriculum area.

You can schedule a little free time for those who finish the work first…but they may only go to a specific website you have determined, not a free-choice site. This site should be a reinforcement for a particular curriculum area that they need to work on (spelling, math, social studies, etc.) and fit into your overall plan for the week.

REMEMBER: Keep your state or district technology standards in mind…it takes a lesson plan to be certain you are hitting all of them.

Shutting down

Leave some time for cleaning up! The elementary school computer lab is one room where you know you will be followed by other classrooms. Leave it like you found it so their learning is not impacted. Start your save-and-shut-down process with at least five minutes to spare.

Follow these steps:

  • Remove headphones with 2 hands and hang them up
  • Save project files to appropriate location (removable storage or folder on shared drive)
  • Close programs or web browser
  • Tidy all cords…I have my kids “clear the deck” to ensure there are no cords on the keyboard area. This is particularly important if you will be closing laptop lids.
  • Shut down using proper procedure (Start/Shut Down in Windows…not press-and-hold the power button)
  • Wait for black screen
  • Gently close the lid if applicable
  • Pat the computer and say, “Thank you Mr. computer!”

That last one is my own quirky way of teaching respect for property.

When the shut down is complete, the students remain seated while you walk about and do a cord/accessory check. I make point of touching each computer as I walk by to reinforce that I am examining each one.

Getting up takes a special technique as well. Stressing cords by shoving tables will cause problems in the long run. So computer lab rules for standing up are important:

  • Scootch down if needed so feet are touching the floor
  • Place hands on the sides of the chair – not on the table
  • Then push back the chair and stand
  • Push in chairs
  • Gather your things

Too detailed? Effective teachers always mind the details.

All that is left is to quietly file out of the room. Oh…and to report to your IT person if you noticed any malfunctions so they can be fixed as quickly as possible. Teaching with technology is a partnership…don’t neglect the staff who handles the hardware.

Get your computer lab success checklist and a computer lab rules poster.