Teacher Tips & Tricks for Using Workstations, Laptops & Handheld Devices

As workstations, laptops and handheld devices such as iPads and iTouch devices become available to use in the classroom, teachers need to be aware of best practices for managing student use of these devices. Many of these techniques apply to workstations as well.

Using seating charts and asset assignment lists are critically important. Students must be aware they are responsible for the care and use of the device, and that they will be held to account for any damage. There is no way to track back casual vandalism of keyboards and screens if you don’t know who was using the device. Develop ways to engage the students so they take a personal interest in the continuing function of the device. If that means labeling the equipment with numbers or names, that is fine, as long as each device can be connected to a set number of users.

Example of unsupervised time on a laptop :-(
Example of unsupervised time on a laptop 🙁

Practice distributing, moving and returning the devices to the cart. Do not allow the students to rush this process, and make sure you give them enough time at the end of the activity so they do it correctly. Make sure each device is plugged in to charge, and make sure any damage is noted and reported immediately. Do not let students leave the classroom until each device has been accounted for and its physical state noted.

If you allow workstation, laptop or handheld use, you MUST monitor the students’ activities. Walk around, keep looking around, and check any activity that is off task. You are responsible for the students’ conduct in class and online. Look for screens turned away from your direct line of sight, watch for sudden window changes and rapid shortcut key use, and sudden movement in your peripheral vision. Students get very good at the task switch command (CMD-Tab or CTRL-Tab) and the minimize command (CTRL-M or CMD-M). Check any suspicious web browsing history, and know that a blank browser history is the sign of off task behavior that is being hidden from you. Also, watch for signs of background applications and windows in the Dock or Start menu. Circulate around the room and keep your head on a swivel.

* Don’t use the computer as a reward system. If a student finishes early, have an enrichment activity ready. Do not allow them to have unstructured “play” time. Unless yours is a study hall class or after school program, have a “No Outside Work in Class” policy.

* Workstations, laptops and handhelds can be searched at any time. Do not be afraid to collect the device and direct the student to a manual method of continuing the activity if you feel they are off task and being irresponsible.

Be aware of camera use. Students frequently turn on the cameras and turn the device into an expensive mirror, and spend time off task primping or taking selfies. Cameras can also be used to record students without their permission, and other students may attempt to do so and post the images to social media.

Hands on desk, device in the center of the desk, no food or drink, no exceptions. Do not allow students to keep the devices in their lap, nor allow them to slide them around the desk.

Close the screen or cover when the teacher is speaking, or anytime the teacher deems necessary. The laptop is not the instructor, so it should be quiet and pay attention when you speak as well as the students. Also, laptop use is NOT required, you are using it to enrich enhancement. Students do not have to use them if they are not needed in your classroom.

Sound off unless it is needed for the assignment. This means no “study” music or headphones unless you as the teacher are providing it.

Watch for instant messaging or chats. While Google Talk is blocked, the collaboration tools within Google Drive are not, and the chat tool can quickly go off the rails.

Create and publish a list of “classroom rules” that dictate how computers are to be used in your classroom. Your rules should include the following:
1. Carry one device at a time, with both hands.
2. Hands on your own device, do not touch another student’s device without teacher permission. This cuts down or “helping” where one tech savvy student does the work of another under the guise of “showing how to do it.”
3. Screens closed and eyes on teacher when teacher is speaking. (as noted above)
4. No food, no drink, hands on desk, etc. (as noted above)
This should be either a school wide agreement or different by classroom, as long as the students follow the rules and preserve the equipment.

Report and note any damage immediately. If a device has been damaged during your class, identify the responsible parties and involve administration immediately. If a device has been noticed as damaged prior to use in your class, make sure the damage is documented and the tech coordinator has been notified. Do not tolerate any abuse or carelessness from students or staff.

Group work is often more effective than 1:1. Even if you have a computer for each student, design activities that encourage collaboration, discovery and discussion. Have students design and create meaningful learning artifacts that provoke thought, interaction, critical thinking and problem solving.

Synthesized from:


Technology Projects for First Semester 13-14


I’ve got a silly passion for cooking shows like Kitchen Nightmares, in spite of the fact I can barely make reservations. I’m going to channel Gordon Ramsay (with out all the cursing) and give you some “dishes” we are “cooking up” for this year. Enjoy!


First Appetizer Course: Online Testing.  In anticipation of the passage of AB 484, we are using the 10 week benchmark testing as a pilot program to get ready for online CST testing at the end of the year. We have never done online testing on this scale before, so we are pushing the limits of what we have to see what works and what doesn’t. In doing so, we have found some limitations in our equipment, such as machine readiness, laptop battery length and wireless network stability. We have also discovered that the company conducting the test are not ready for prime time either. We will be working on some fixes so that the 2d benchmark testing will be smoother (fingers crossed!).

Second Appetizer Course: Machine Replacement. There was some room in the budget to replace the teacher laptop fleet at BCCS, so all of the hard working MacBook 2007s have been moved to the 4th cart, and all the teaching staff have new MacBook Airs. Be nice to those new laptops, they have to last another decade :-). In addition, we seized on an opportunity to purchase 40 iMacs (white 2007) to replace some losses in our fleet at both schools. I will be installing 20 at BCCS and 20 at MORCS over the coming weeks, with the goal of bringing all math classrooms up to 15 working machines, and give each classroom access to 12-15 computers. By combining resources, teachers can go to a 1:1 computer/student ratio for testing or projects.  Finally, one math class at BCCS received 15 new iMacs, and their old computers will be redistributed to cover hardware failures in the fleet. I’m still trying to get our art director to figure out a way to use the 50 or so dead iMacs that are on the floor in his classroom as media for an art installation 🙂

First Course: Wireless Troubleshooting. The wireless network at MORCS is not performing as designed. There appears to be contention between the access points controlled by the wlan controller versus the 15 independently configured access points. I’m working on changing the SSID on the adhoc network, but it takes a significant amount of time to configure 15 access points, and then to touch all 180+ wireless devices to update the wireless configuration. Unfortunately, the students have compromised the old wireless password, so I have to be very strict about giving out the new password. If the new password gets compromised, we would have to go through the config process all over again. So, the wireless troubleshooting will take some time; I hope to have it squared away by the next testing cycle.

Amuse Bouche: WordPress sites for student and teacher use. Due to the pushback on using Dreamweaver for portfolios, I am experimenting with wordpress multisites to provide a web platform for student work, as well as a place for teachers to either create content for their classrooms or connect to outside resources they are using, such as edublogs. Mr. Ruiz and Ms. Spoto are experimenting with the 8th grade at visuarts.coronacharter.org (only accessible from within the school network, blocked as a 404 error outside to preserve student privacy), and another teacher has expressed interest in doing something with 7th grade. The school teacher sites have also been reset as wordpress sites, and as soon as I get a chance, I’ll work on trainings so teachers can begin using them if they wish. This blog post is an example of a teacher’s site.

Second Course:  MORCS phone / switch troubleshooting. This network has 18 switches, and the port configurations that allow the phone system to work has been mysteriously disappearing, which has caused some phones to stop working correctly. There is also some confusion in the phone directory, and some phones at BCCS are not plugged or have incorrect extensions assigned to them. I have to go through each configuration and troubleshoot it, which is in a language I do not really understand (Cisco IOS), but only have a few stock “recipes” to try out. My goal is to stabilize the network so it is bulletproof, and that is taking a bit of time. Please be patient, it’s still cooking!

 Third Course: Projector Issues. We are having a problem with projector bulbs at MORCS, and we have to replace a projector at BCCS that is out of warranty ($$$!!!). The bulbs cost between $150 – $300 a piece, depending on the manufacture, so please make sure you turn off your projector when you are not using it. Please also clean out the vent filter if your projector has one.

First Dessert Course: Portable asset redistribution / 4th cart. At MORCS, the laptop carts have been divided so each teacher has access to 15 devices, and there is a 4th cart at BCCS that has 9 iPads and 11 iTouch devices, in addition to 11 very tired MacBooks. This cart is still being prepared, but I hope to have it out to the classroom rotation in the next couple of weeks. This cart will give teachers more flexibility in going to 1:1, as well as put 20 iOS cameras in student hands.

Second Dessert Course: Replacement for Apple File Servers. I am having a problem with the LDAP directory server; it will not let me create new accounts. Between that and the fact that Apple has discontinued enterprise server support, I need to work out a better way to support student remote accounts at BCCS, and extend that capability to MORCS. At this point, we have to rely on the local machine account, and if the computer goes boom, so does the student’s work. While I work on this problem, please encourage your students to store their work in their Google Drive, and wherever possible, have them create and edit their documents in Drive.

The Bill: I am seriously “in the weeds,” and am working on these and other projects at the same time, so my response time is getting to be a bit long, and some have accused me of turning into Gordon Ramsay 🙂 I’ll work on my charming side and bring it to work as much as possible. If you see me marching off in the distance, muttering to myself and gesticulating, don’t worry! I’m just finishing the filming for my personal reality show for the day. Bon Apetit!