Managing Laptops

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I started my teaching career the right way. I was christened in a kindergarten class at a low-income school in Los Angeles. I was taking over for a teacher who had been fired because she wasn’t able to control the class. I had a group of 36 kids, some who were non-English speakers, and resources were scarce. I learned through the successes and failures of each day to make it work. And I grew to love it. As it turns out, kids are kids.

The years after got easier as I became more confident and more skilled at my trade. But I continued to work in lower income schools. I found a niche for myself working with a population of kids that others steered clear of when it came time to choose their schools.

I always say that if you can teach kindergarten, you can teach anything. And, of course, if you can handle the classroom management issues that arise in inner-city schools, you could probably handle any class anywhere.

I’ve since made a change and my last several years have been spent teaching a demographic at the opposite extreme – small class sizes, fairly stable home situations, healthy, well-behaved kids. I feel for my coworkers who are starting their careers on the gravy train. You have to wonder if they can stay happy if they end up back in some of the public school systems back in the US. Will they wish they’d done it the other way around?

What does this have to do with laptops? When I was reading the comments of teachers who have been involved in 1-to-1 laptop programs, listening to their advice and experiences, two things became apparent:

First, classroom management is classroom management just as kids are kids. The same concepts apply whether you’re managing a pen and paper classroom or one outfitted with laptops. Certain things are required to help students feel safe, motivated, and to stay inline with classroom expectations.

And second, laptops add some real complications to managing a class. There are so many situations that might not be anticipated for a teacher just starting out in a 1-to-1 environment. Kids are kids and a classroom is a classroom; but, in a certain sense, I suspect that a teacher that becomes competent at running a 1-to-1 classroom, will be able to manage anything they may encounter later on in their career.

Classroom management has always been about some basic concepts that need to be present in order for things to run well:

* Clearly defined expectations and consequences – I put a lot of stock in making connections with my students so that they feel ownership of what happens in our class. Clear expectations take away the nebulous areas that can be a big frustration for everyone involved. And clear consequences make it easy to enforce the rules without taking it personally. They aren’t offending me; their offense was against rule number 7. No need for me to get upset.

* Consistent enforcement – Nothing undermines class management more than a wishy washy teacher. When kids know that off the mark behavior brings consequences, they feel more secure. They know where the limits are and they can settle into getting on within those limits.

* Accountability – This happens through keeping an eye on what is happening in the classroom (the physical setup must lend itself to this), having kids report on what they accomplished in a given period of time, through assessments, and through things like one-on-one conferences to review progress. If kids know they will need to show something for their time, they will rise to the expectation.

I suspect that the step up to teaching in the 1-to-1 classroom entails a steep learning curve. In addition to the standard tools of the management trade, we now have to deal with a whole new set of potential distractions and a variety of technical difficulties. My experience has been limited to my occasional use of the laptop cart with my fourth graders at my previous school. There were times when I spent half the lesson troubleshooting one problem after another.

I have experienced enough to know that I don’t know. There is a lot for me to learn. This is why I am thankful for friends at other schools and people in my learning networks who have walked the road before me. I’m reading and I’m taking notes. Hopefully this time next year, I will be in a situation where I can start to put these things to good use.

Here is a good list of several things to be prepared for when taking on the 1-to-1 classroom. Perhaps it’s a good place to start.

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7 Responses to Managing Laptops

  1. Kim Cofino says:

    Good points – very relevant for the 1:1 classroom!

  2. Great points Geoff! It is true that classroom management only changes in form when adding laptops to the picture. Instead of students passing notes, they are chatting. However, you make a great point that teaching students to manage with a computer will help them to be more successful as they are able to manage as adults.

  3. I so agree with what you say

    I teach older kids, but managing kids is managing kids. laptops are just a tool, and I found some of the material available re how to teach with laptops just plain insulting to teachers who know their trade. Yep, it is a steep leaning curve – one which administrators seem not to be aware of in school after school that adopts a 1:1 program. When you first start teaching in a 1:1 environment, you do stop focussing on the student needs / management issues, as making the laptops work etc etc is your main focus. It is only some time later, when you are confortable with the technology, that you again move to focus on the kids, but this time with many new tools in your arsenal.

  4. Hi Geoff!
    I’m going to through a “devil’s advocate” comment in here. Yes, classroom management is classroom management, but the stakes are higher now, aren’t they? Here’s what I mean by this: When a student in a “pencil and paper” class would get distracted, they would look outside the window and daydream about where they would be instead. When a student in my 1:1 laptop class is distracted, they are connected to every positive AND negative website ever put out there on the internet. At least with a daydreaming student, they could only “get into trouble” with their own imagination. Now, my students can literally ruin their lives- get into financial trouble, get addicted to video games, cyber-bully another student to death, in the course of my class. It’s a bit scary to me how accessible EVERYTHING is to them.
    I was sent this email the other day from my uncle; he pines for the “good old days”. It’s a pretty funny, but accurate “problem” that kids without computers might encounter.–

    • Actually, that link I gave you won’t work. This one will. It’s worth a look :).
      link to

      • Andrew Dragonettia says:

        Hate to sound redundant Geoff, but I couldn’t agree more. Kids are kids. We manage the room the same way as we ever have. Kids have always looked for ways to get around the rules and continue to do so today. The tools of the trade are different that’s all. As a result and as teachers we are always adjusting and readjusting the ways in which we manage.

    • Andrew Dragonetti says:

      Jennifer, I think it comes down to, not only as Geoff mentioned, accountability, but also that we as teachers are engaging our students completely. The daydreaming begins when students lose interest in the lesson.

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