Two heads are better than one: This year I’ve started having the students partner up on the laptops. We have enough for each student to have one, but having them work in pairs has proven to be a good management technique. Usually, between the two of them they’ll be able to put together all of the pieces of the lesson. Although it is not as efficient as each student working on their own laptop they are able to keep each other on task and they usually complete the assignment more accurately.
Slow, deliberate directions: It doesn’t matter if the students each have their own laptop in front of them or if they are working in pairs it’s crucial that the directions are given bit-by-bit and there are clear stopping points to make sure everyone is looking at the same screen. Check in with them frequently.
Have a table captain: You can only spread yourself so thin. One teacher, 21 students and 21 laptops can be a frustrating scenario. One technique that has worked is finding a student that demonstrates higher than average computer knowledge and make them your frontline of defense from the barrage of, “What?” ”What am I supposed to do?” ”Where’s that folder?” ”Click where?”
Plan ahead: Anticipate problems, because there will be. I have yet to simply take out the laptops and turn them on without problems. Some laptops don’t connect to the network right away, some have extra windows popping up with dialog boxes the students don’t understand, sometimes programs need to be registered before starting, etc… Of course there are times when a laptop won’t even start, because the last person that used it didn’t plug it in to be recharged. Be ready for the laptops to fail.
Pre-teach the lesson: Before getting out the laptops, tell the students what you expect from them at the end of the lesson. If it involves writing have them pre-write what they will be typing on the compter. Having a student compose a piece of work from scratch on the laptop can be difficult because of all the distractions. It is a bit like me right now. I have a window with iTunes running, my email is pinging in the background, Facebook is updating in my browser window all while I compose this post, I’m too distracted.