September 1997

Thirty Students, One Computer
Thirty Students, One Computer


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Thirty Students, One Computer,
Always Busy!

Some tried and true ideas that work in the one-computer classroom.


By Mary Storey

Many teachers find it a challenge to make full use of just one or two computers in the classroom. But experience shows that there are some tried and true ideas that work in the one-computer classroom.

It’s best to have only one student at a time use the computer for word processing or drawing using graphics software. Each student has ownership of their own ideas and it’s difficult to get two or three students to write a creative story or draw a picture. The second or third student can go to the computer when it’s time to edit the story or evaluate the picture.

For simulation software programs such as those for history, science or geography, two or three students gathered around the computer is most effective. One student can control the keyboard, one student does the oral reading from the screen and the third student makes notes, completes a work sheet or keeps a diary of the decisions made or events that happen in the software.

If these students rotate their jobs every 10 minutes the written work is completed in three different writing styles and every student gets to use the keyboard.

Ideal for brainstorming

The computer helps teach students how to brainstorm, and this new skill will make more effective use of the hardware. Because many of our students do not have good typing skills, the student at the computer will take a longer time to enter their ideas into the computer. However, they will catch up with the rest of the class when the editing happens. This can be done much faster in word processing than making a second copy with a pen or pencil.

Try to organize classroom activities so that different students use software for different units and all students get an effective, longer time at the computer, rather than a short ineffective time daily. It is better for students to have a worthwhile longer experience at the computer than a shorter non-curriculum experience.

Not every student will use every piece of software and they can keep records of the use with a class list pinned above the computer. The other third or half the class will use a different piece of software for the next unit and get somewhat equal use of the computer.

Get everyone involved with newsletters

When students are researching a topic and entering the data into databases or game creators, many students will use the computer for a short period of time to create a collective product. This also works in the creation of a poetry newsletter or a newsletter about a country the class is studying, where each student types a small part of the final product.

Whole class instruction can take place when the teacher pulls the computer to the front on a table, seats the students on the carpet and demonstrates new software. The complete class is learning via a lesson on the computer while the teacher uses the keyboard. This would be an introductory how-to lesson before the students work on the same software in small groups during the length of the unit.

Each time students are asked to pick up a pen or pencil, one student can be at the computer using word processing. This could happen when the students are doing spelling exercises or dictation, grammar exercises, a science note, response to a novel, a video or a current events issue. Student work can be printed and inserted in the appropriate notebook. Using this method, four or five students a day can use the classroom computer

Always send the students to the computer with a task to do – and it should be one that results in a product that can be evaluated. Using the computer when students complete their work or as a game machine is not the reason we have computers in our classrooms.

Mary Storey has 25 years experience as an elementary teacher and is a Prime Minister’s Award recipient for excellence in teaching mathematics, science and technology. For the past seven years, she has been a computer consultant for the York Region Board of Education.