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Uncategorized   |   Sep 28, 2011

Classroom Management Tips for School Computer Labs

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Classroom Management Tips for School Computer Labs

By Angela Watson

This page will support educators in setting up a school computer lab, creating and teaching expectations for the computer classroom, and managing both instruction and behavior so that students get the maximum possible benefit. Ideas for computer lab design and arrangement are also included to support computer instruction and computer lab management.

Classroom Management Tips for School Computer Labs

Computer labs: outdated and unnecessary?


Most schools now are moving away from the computer lab set up (housing computers in their own separate rooms) in favor of placing more computers in the classroom so they can be fully integrated into instruction throughout the day. School and technology ideas are changing: the idea of a separate “computer teacher” is being phased out as ALL teachers are expected to be proficient with computers and use them in their lessons. I agree with this concept of having technology in the classroom and believe that eventually, all schools will make this shift and focus on classroom technology.

So, why create this page? Because many schools have NOT made this shift yet, and teachers need support in implementing the resources they DO have, not what they SHOULD have. If computer classrooms are what your school uses, you don’t need a lecture on how things ought to be, you need practical resources. There are many, many teachers doing incredible things with computer labs, and I want to share some ideas for classroom management in the lab so those amazing learning activities can take place with as few disruptions as possible.

Managing the set up of a computer classroom

As an Instructional Technology Coach, I had the privilege of helping a school in the Bronx set up a computer lab for the first time. Check out the slideshow below for ideas on computer class design, arranging computer tables for the classroom, and establishing school computer lab rules:

Managing instruction and behavior in the computer lab

I’d like to share some photos with you from the computer lab of an extremely organized and management-savvy computer teacher. I discovered Stephanie Dunaieff while doing some technology consulting at her school, Bnos Malka Academy in Queens, New York. I was so impressed with how she sets up and runs the lab, I had to share!

What I really like about this lab is that everything is simple: it’s a great illustration of how you don’t need brand new computers, fancy bulletin board borders, commercially made posters, and special equipment to have a fully functional computer lab. Check out the slide show to get ideas on how to set up computer lab routines and make the best use of both the physical space of the lab and the time allotted to each class.

7 tips for strong instructional routines in the computer lab

Here are a few tips for both computer lab teachers and regular classroom teachers who bring their students to the computer lab:

1) Give instructions BEFORE students come to the lab.

Once they have a computer in front of them, kids won’t want to listen to you. If you’re a classroom teacher, show the websites/activities on your classroom projector and give the directions, then bring the class immediately to the lab. Remind students of what to do when they’re in the hall outside the computer lab door (“Remember, when you enter the room, you’re going to open the web browser and go straight to www.whatever.com”) , then send them in. If you’re a computer lab teacher or a classroom teacher without access to a project or interactive whiteboard in your classroom, consider having students sit on the rug in front of the computer lab projector while you give assignments. Keep it short and model only what’s absolutely necessary, and after a few short minutes, send students to the computers so they can start working.

2) Teach students to sit in their same seat, turn on the computer, and begin working as soon at they enter the room.

Kids are anxious to use the machines and will play around and be disruptive if you force them to sit in front of a computer and not touch it. You have a short period in the lab: start using it right at the beginning of the period.

3) Make sure important websites and passwords are displayed.

Then when students say, “Which site are we on?” “How do I login?”, you can just gesture at the sign. This doesn’t have to be a major production: view the slideshow above to see how simply appropriate signs and reminders can be posted. If you’re a classroom teacher and not allowed to leave posters up in the lab, assign a student helper to be in charge of bringing them back and forth for as long as the class needs to reference the posters. It’s worth the extra effort, because you’re training students to be independent problem solvers!

4) When giving directions in the lab, move quickly.

Don’t ask “Is everyone on this web page? Everyone got it?” Just look around: if most screens are at the right place, give the next direction. Students will eagerly help one another out as needed, and once the class is settled, you can circulate to troubleshoot with the ones who have fallen behind. But if you try to troubleshoot beforethe rest of the class is engaged in their task, the ones who are ready will become restless and disruptive. If you are consistent with this procedure, students who aren’t keeping up will learn to wait patiently, because they know as soon as you’ve got the rest of the class on task, you’ll help them out.

5) Always have something for students to do when they finish early,

Kids shouldn’t have to ask what to do, or worse, find their own form of entertainment. When they complete their task, they should have a list of fun educational games or other things they can do.

6) Have an alternate activity planned in case something goes wrong with your lesson.

What if the internet is down or too slow? What if a site is blocked? What if your subscription to a site is no longer valid? (Yes, all three of these have happened to me. Repeatedly.) Have at least two other things students can do, preferably things that are similar to past assignments so it won’t take a lot of explanation. Then you can say, “OK, the site appears to be down. I’m going to troubleshoot, and while I work, I’d like you to go to this website instead. In five minutes, I’ll either tell you to resume the original assignment, or stay on the other site.”

7) Give meaningful, engaging assignments, preferably ones that allow students to work at their own pace.

Remember, the goal is to minimize time off task. Don’t make the entire class sit passively at ANY time. If you make them wait while three kids struggle to get online, and then again while you reprimand a few kids for being off task, and then again to make sure everyone’s gotten to the right website, the learning environment will be chaotic because the kids are frustrated. Give the assignment in the beginning–preferably before students even enter the lab–and allow the kids to stay focused on their work. They’ll be much more engaged and productive if they don’t have to keep pace with the whole class, so whenever possible, give projects and assignments that are open ended or student directed.

If you also have the luxury of computer access in your classroom, check out Routines for Computer Use page for classroom-based suggestions, as well as printable resources for managing computer use.

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. Ms. Angela Watson!

    It is so pleasing to read out your research and pro active thoughts and methods to Manage a Lab better. I am also a newly appoint Computer Lab Instructor, and you have teach me a very good lesson!

    Thank you so much looking up forward for your new observations.

    S. Talha Ali
    Karachi, Pakistan.

  2. Hi guys,
    I was taking classes at MSU and wanted to find a better fit for me and decided I really love the computer lab I visited at Calloway County High School. So, I was wondering what I needed to do to teach computer lab in 5th grade elementary. Would it be an elementary school education major?
    I need a name to google or a schedule of classes you had to take to reach your goal.
    Sharon East

    1. Hi, Sharon! I would think you’d need to be an elementary education major, yes. There isn’t a program of study that I’m aware of for teaching computer lab. Keep in mind that most schools with computer labs require the lab teachers to teach the full range of grades in the school, so you’ll need to be familiar with pedagogy from K-5 at least. Also keep in mind that computer labs are rapidly disappearing from American schools as we move toward tech integration in the classroom. It’s far more likely that you’ll get a job as a classroom teacher teaching all subjects, and be expected to integrate technology into those subjects. All the best to you!

  3. Hello, great article! I am unable to see the second slide show of Stephanie Dunaieff’s lab and I was wondering if you could either redirect me to it on an another page or tell me what program or application I might need to view it (I’m on an HP with relatively up-to-date common apps/programs).

    1. Hi, Jessica! I see what you mean. Picasa has changed the way they allow slideshows to be embedded. See if you can get the updated version above to work for you now. 🙂

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