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New Teachers Online: How-To Articles: Use New Technology to Reinforce Instruction

Setting Up Classroom Computers
Carl Sannito

If you’re reading this article, it’s safe to assume that you’re using some type of technology in the classroom. There are plenty of ways that educators incorporate technology into their classrooms. We use cameras, overhead projectors, calculators, listening centers, video, etc. Most of those forms of technology are very straightforward. To use the camera, you point and click. To use the calculator, you turn it on and input your numbers. However, when it comes to using a computer in the classroom, there’s a lot more to set up than just plugging it in and turning it on.

It would be great if you could simply push the on button of a computer and it would power up perfectly configured for your particular classroom. And let’s be honest, when you turn on a brand new computer, it’s all bright and shiny and it appears as though it’s awaiting your every command. But that’s far from the case. If you’re lucky enough to have someone in your building who can help you install and maintain your computers, someone who is savvy enough to anticipate your classroom needs, count your blessings. Sometimes, though, we are left to our own devices. I know that I had to figure out everything about my classroom computers on my own. If that’s the case for you, here are some things you can do (or should at least consider doing) when setting up a computer in your classroom.

The location of your computers is something that we don’t often appreciate until we’ve rearranged the classroom to accommodate the new tool, but it’s critical to put some thought into this. I like to have all the computer screens facing one direction so I can quickly glance over to see who is on task and who needs help. If I would have set my computers up in pods or circles, I wouldn’t be able to see what’s happening. This is just good classroom management.

Headphones and Speakers
Although most computers come with speakers these days, that’s only one part of the equation. Headphones are equally important in a classroom environment. Headphones allow the students to turn the volume up and not disturb the classroom. I try to purchase at least two pair of headphones for every computer. (I prefer Labtec headphones because I can get them at a very reasonable price and the quality is good.) Having two pair of headphones means that two students can be engaged on one machine at a time. If you can purchase two pair of headphones, make sure that you have two inputs for the headphones. If you only have one input, you need to purchase a splitter device (usually available at Radio Shack or Best Buy).

Educational Software
It’s not enough to set up the computer and tell the kids to go to the Internet and learn. You must install software. More often than not, you don’t get to participate in the decision making process when it comes to purchasing software. If there’s any way you can participate in the software purchasing process, do so. Be aware that if you want your opinion heard, you have to earn that right. This means extra work. You may have to do research and test out software to see if it’s what you want.

I’ve written about this before, but picking out the right software can be difficult. (See my article on “Time for Timeliner.”) One reason is that you have so many choices. There is software written for particular grade levels, certain ages, curriculum, etc. You might be looking for software that focuses on a particular skill, like map reading, or you might want software that’s broader in scope, tutoring students in geometry, for example.

First you have to find some good software companies. Like most teachers, I receive tons of catalogues in the mail. Keep those catalogues and look through them when you’re thinking about purchasing software. (It’s hard to tell if certain software is good for your needs based on a catalog description, but it’s a start.) You can search the Internet for “educational software.” Visiting a computer store is another great way to get started. The hard part is finding a company that has the software that suits your needs as an educator. I enjoy Sunburst and Tom Snyder products, but there are many great companies.

Do your research. I’ve bought some good stuff at Best Buy, but I try to check the software out on the Internet before I buy it. Sometimes you can find software reviews online by doing a simple Google search. You can find good reviews on www.amazon.com. Research might mean downloading a demo version of the software to test out. It could even mean calling the company and asking them to send you one copy to try out for a limited time before you decide. You’ll be surprised how helpful some companies are.

Security Software
Keep in mind that your computer is going to be used by many students. Sometimes students can accidentally delete a file, remove a desktop item or render a piece of software useless. You need something to prevent this from happening. Security software like Fortres puts blocks on the computer to stop children from deleting or installing something potentially harmful. Deep Freeze is another popular product. It allows students to make any changes they want to a computer, but when the machine is restarted, the damage is undone. I find software like this invaluable. I highly recommend it.

The little things can make a big difference on a computer. Here’s a list of free software “extras” that I install on every machine during set up.

Adobe Acrobat Reader - PDF is a universal format that many documents are written in. If you have students on the Internet, you’ll need this.

Google Toolbar - The pop-up stopper on this toolbar is a little blessing. It will help prevent kids from being inundated with window after window.

Flash Player and Shockwave Player - Both players allow for certain types of animation to run on your computer.

Real Player and QuickTime Player - Both players allow for a variety of multi-media files to play on your computer. Many audio and video files on the Internet are written in one of these two formats.

I understand that the responsibilities of teaching are enormous and sometimes we are expected to know everything about everything. Sometimes the administration will provide technology, but nothing else in terms of support. If that’s the case, use this article to get your computer set up the way it needs to be and explain to your administration the “hidden costs” associated with computers. We all know money is tight in education. We need to make sure that we plan ahead in our spending. We need to make every dollar count. I hope this article helps you do just that.

Do you have a comment or suggestion? You can e-mail Carl at carlsannito@yahoo.com.


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