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