How to Set Up Computers
in Your Classroom

by Peggy Healy Stearns, Ph.D.

Whether you have the latest multimedia computer or a classic MS-DOS or Apple II machine, a classroom computer can be a motivating and powerful tool. Here are some tips for setting up and using technology in your classroom.

First decide how you're most likely to use your computer.

  • Presentation station: Teach a lesson, lead a class discussion, or let your students take center stage.
  • Learning center: Students work on programs and projects individually or in small groups.
  • Teacher workstation: Keep student records, generate reports, create activity sheets, assessment materials, newsletters for parents, and much more.

If you have one computer . . .

  • Pick a home base for your computer depending on how you expect to use it most often. Remember that you'll need access to electrical outlets and, if available, your phone or cable line.
  • If possible, keep your computer on a sturdy mobile cart so you can move it around the room. As you and your students develop more expertise, you'll probably use the computer in a greater variety of ways. For example, even if you initially use it as a student workstation, plan ahead so you can move it to the front of the room to use as a presentation tool.
  • Make sure the height of your computer station is appropriate. The monitor should be eye-level and the keyboard elbow-high. Use a mouse pad so the mouse rolls easily and stays clean.
  • Plug all the cables into a single power strip equipped with a surge protector. Not all surge protectors are the same, so be sure you get a good one. Better yet, have your district install commercial surge protection on the circuit box.
  • Protect younger children by covering unused outlets with plug caps.
  • If you use your computer as a presentation station, you'll probably want a scan converter or a projection device. Scan converters allow you to send your computer image to a television monitor. These devices cost about $200 to $400 and are available from Digital Vision, TView, and other manufacturers. LCD (liquid crystal display) panels are connected to your computer via a cable and sit on top of an overhead so the image can be projected on a screen. These units generally cost anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000 and require a high-quality overhead and partially darkened room. (It's easy to see why most schools are opting for scan converters!)
  • Help students make the best of limited computer time. Organize software, student disks, guides, and/or related resources nearby in a box or on a bookshelf.
  • Create a schedule. With only one computer it's difficult to provide access for everyone, so you'll need to schedule time for each child or small group. The length should depend on the assignment and students' attention span. Post your schedule by the computer and have a clock or timer readily available.
  • Use the computer to support your curriculum. There are hundreds of excellent software titles that address specific learning objectives. Look for those that fit your students' needs. (In the upcoming month's article, we'll take a look at integrating technology into the curriculum.)
  • Share the wealth. Both you and your colleagues have occasions when one computer just won't do. At times like these, arrange to share computers so you can set up a mini-lab in your classroom. If your computers are on mobile carts, transporting them will be easy.

If you have several computers...

  • Set up one computer as a shared presentation/teacher work-station in the front of the room.
  • Use the rest of the computers as student work-stations. Most teachers form a computer cluster in one area of the room, usually towards the back where they're less apt to cause a distraction.
  • If you end up with a jumble of wires, color-code each set and the associated computer with stickers. That way you can identify cables when you need to trouble-shoot or move equipment.
  • Tuck wires out of the way. You may want to consolidate them with one or more "cord snakes," hollow plastic tubes designed for this purpose.
  • Adapt your mini-lab to your needs. Students sometimes work on the same activity, but other times you may want to designate a different role for each computer. One station can be a reading center with a collection of electronic books, another a writing center with a word processor and publishing tools. Add a math/science center, a social studies center, or a music and art center.

Help is just around the corner...

  • Find out if your school or district has a technology support person. Contact that person to find out what kinds of services he or she provides.
  • Create your own support group. If you and several colleagues agree to use some of the same software, you can share ideas and help each other trouble-shoot. Even "experts" need help from time to time. Don't be afraid to ask.
  • Enlist your "techno-kids." Most children love computers and spend hours exploring and problem solving. In the process, they develop valuable expertise. Enlist their help as technical advisors. Let them explore new software, teach you how to use it, tutor classmates, and trouble-shoot. They'll save you time and frustration, and the experience will bolster their self-esteem.
  • Boost your technology learning curve. Take advantage of computer courses offered by your school, district, and local colleges and universities.