Laptop Management in a Third Grade Classroom

Q: Will kids misuse technology?

A: Duh! Of course they will! They’re kids.

Q: Is that a good reason to avoid using technology in the classroom?

A: Ummm…NO! Kids will misuse technology in the same ways that they “misuse” anything else (and you can tell by my somewhat questionable use of quotation marks that I’m not even sure misuse is the right word, but that debate is for another post).

Kids are masters of using tools for other than their intended use. Pencils? Excellent poking devices and fantastic for drawing and/or writing notes when they should be working. Paper? A must for paper airplanes, cootie catchers, and all other forms of classroom origami.

Would we ever consider taking pencils and paper away from kids en masse? Nope. Don’t be ridiculous. Technological tools should be treated in much the same way, as tools to facilitate learning. With well established rules, procedures, and expectations technology can be used just as efficiently as it’s paper/pencil counterparts.

I have to say I’m very lucky. I established very few rules when we started using computers this year. Looking back I can see the few rules I did use were effective because all kids were working on the same projects at the same time. That translates into very little independence. Good for me. Bad for student learning. Now that I am more comfortable using laptops with my third graders and they are becoming more independent (and especially now that we have a permanent cart of 12 computers) it is important to establish clear expectations of laptop use.

Here are things I currently expect:
• Memory sticks/Thumbdrives/USB flash drives
Call them what you will, every student needs one. We don’t save on the computer or the server. The upside? This allows all computers to be available to all students and makes each student as responsible for their memory stick as they would have to be for any other classroom tool. The downside? Student work is not backed up. Luckily for me, this is third grade and no student assignment is crucial. Lose your flash drive? Find a way to solve your problem. This may mean starting over or choosing another method to complete the assignment. This is a great learning opportunity for kids. We have all lost something important that we have forgotten to save. It’s a painful lesson but a valuable one.

• Cooperation (aka “Go find an expert”)
I very rarely help more than one student with a specific task. Once I help one child, they become an expert. Their job is to teach other students how to solve the problem. This both empowers students and frees me up to help students who may be struggling with content related issues.

• Focus
My kids are still so motivated by using computers that this is rarely a problem. They do know, however, that should they ever be on a website that isn’t directly related to their task, their laptop will immediately be given to someone else. That is the beauty of my current 1-2 situation…someone is always waiting for a computer.

• Attention
When I need to tell the kids something, I expect to say it once. To assist with listening I do three things. First, ask students to fold their arms. This is for short quick bursts of information. Next, if I need to speak longer, I ask kids lower their screen. Finally, if I need to share something crucial, I bring the class to the carpet. That’s about as close as you can get to guaranteeing attention from eight year olds.

Here are some things I am considering but have yet to implement:
• Assigning specific computers to specific students
I know some teachers find this useful but I will only do this if problems with my current system arise. I have 12 computers and 21 kids. Students are always at different points of an assignment and having 2 kids assigned to each computer means that a) someone could be kept waiting, or b) you tell the waiting child to take another computer which then becomes a problem for the two students that computer is assigned to. This works for some teachers but this is a last resort management option for me.

• Designating a cart caretaker.
Currently all of my students are responsible for getting and returning their own computers, including making sure they are plugged in. So far this hasn’t been a problem but I’m sure a day will come where a computer or two hasn’t been plugged in to charge. The first time I will allow for natural consequences (You didn’t plug it in? Guess you’ll have to find another way to finish your work.) This works now because my kids are so invested in using laptops. However, if this ever seems to become a strategy for work avoidance or if it becomes a major obstacle to work completion then the monitor solution will have to become adopted.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Laptop Management in a Third Grade Classroom

  1. Excellent advice. Would like to convince my school that a laptop cart for an entire grade is extremely inefficient. Perhaps I can convince them to assign 4 laptops per two classrooms (we team teach anyway.)

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