Friday, September 28, 2007

Getting Copyright Right
Appropriate use and the Web: a primer for teachers

For years, you've recycled that same cartoon on your handouts. You've copied that same poem onto enough pieces of paper to fill a file cabinet. You've distributed that pie chart or bar graph so many times, you could draw it from memory. You've projected that same image of the solar system so many times, you can still see it when you close your eyes.

You may not even remember where you got those materials in the first place.

But now that we're moving towards putting those materials on the web, it's time to find out.

Edline and other publishing opportunities raise the spectre of copyright violation in ways that are new for most teachers. Fair use laws may allow us to use many found materials in our classrooms, but putting stuff up on the web is publishing. And republishing copyrighted materials without the legal right to do so can be a liability issue -- for you and for the district.

College campuses this year are full of students being "busted" for downloading music illegally. As these college students are learning the hard way, technology makes many things possible, but possible and right are two entirely different things.

What does this all mean for us?

  • That same cartoon you thought you were perfectly safe using on your handouts probably can't be put on your edline page. It MAY not have been yours to stick on your quiz, either.

  • That same image you use so effectively in the classroom to help students understand the surface of the moon may not be available for you to use on the web.

  • That song your students downloaded at home may not legal to play in class, even as part of a project presentation.

Fair use laws are complicated and ever-changing. But the basic parameters of appropriate use for teachers are pretty easy to stick to:

1. Don't assume. For all materials, it is your legal responsibility to check for copyright information before you use something. Many websites will have copyright information listed on the home page, or at the bottom of a page, but if you can't find any copyright information, most legal experts will tell you to assume that the material is copyrighted, and to select a different image, poem, chart or other material instead.

2. Photographs are generally copyrighted, though they may not say so on the photo itself. This copyright generally does not allow us to repost those pictures on the web. It almost always does NOT allow you to modify or crop the picture in any way (note that edline "degrades" the quality of some images automatically, which counts as a modification by copyright standards).

Some photo websites such as Flickr default uploaded pictures to a fair use option so that, as long as you properly attribute where you got the photo, you can use it to do almost anything except sell a product, but it's still YOUR responsibility as the "re-publisher" to make sure.

3. On the other hand, most (but not all) clip art is available for your own use, even on the web, as long as your use is not a commercial one. But here, too, you need to be careful -- just because it looks like clip art doesn't mean some artist has not made it available under copyright.

4. Text generally falls under "fair use" for educational purposes ONLY when you are using a small portion of the overall text, and only for educational purposes. It's almost never considered appropriate to copy a whole poem, or more than a paragraph or so of an original text, in the classroom or on the web.

5. Your own rights and intellectual property matter, too. The moment you put your curricular materials "out there", other people can find them, and use them, as if they were their own. We'll go into this more deeply in a later blog post, but in the meantime, if you are not interested in freely sharing your curricular materials with the world, I'd keep the long essays and curriculum write-ups on paper or email.

Not sure if a particular image, poem, or "block" of text is "safe" for use on edline? Concerned that you've been breaking the law for years without realizing it? Have questions about fair use laws as they apply to your use of teaching materials? Mary Ellen and myself are happy to help you check out the legal status of a particular document or image before you put it "out there" -- feel free to email us at any time!

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Of Stuff and Spaces:
What’s new in the information center!

What’s new in the WMS Information Center? More than you think! Since last Spring, in order to provide the best possible support for you and your students, we’ve added new tools and new spaces to the total package of information center resources, and developed what we hope will be a much more effective and easy-to-use management approach to supporting you in your use of instructional technology and information literacy tools and technologies this year. Here’s the breakdown:

1. The tools of the trade

Loanable resources this year have improved, both in quantity and in their flexibility.

In the next few weeks, we’ll be purchasing a new data projector with money donated by the PTO for this purpose – one or two more and we’ll be able to redistribute these projectors out to teams. In the meantime, we’ve added some smaller components to our existing projector set-ups which will make a big difference in how you can use them: a 25 foot long projector cable, so you no longer have to rearrange your entire room to project from the computer in the corner; wireless mice and keyboards, so you or your students can present from the best spot for a given presentation, regardless of projector or computer location; a splitter cable, so you can see your computer monitor while you project, instead of having to read off the screen.

And remember: projectors are great for video projection, but their ability to bring a computer image to the big screen means that anything one person can do with the computer is something the class can share and participate in.

Digital cameras remain a powerful tool for archiving, and for capturing the moments of our classes and our time together. A larger storage stick will now allow you to take the camera on field trips without running out of “film”. Our service in lending out cameras will now include moving your pictures to the network folder of your choice when you return the camera, so you’ll have your images right away. All this, plus a commitment to using and providing you with rechargeable batteries allows you to forget about the technology and focus on the task at hand.

Our new digital video camera is a great resource for recording and archiving class projects and team experiences – no longer must we grade in-class presentation on the fly! But video cameras have high potential as instructional tools, too. Teachers of languages and communication have long used video as a means for students to see their own presentation – an easy in-class turn-around, since our camera will plug directly into your classroom TV set. Students who can see themselves from outside are given a powerful opportunity to correct their use of language, their style, and their presentation skills.

(Don’t forget our more traditional in-house resources, too! The library remains ready to handle your lamination, large-format printing, and A/V cart needs!)

2. More space, better technology

Our shared resource spaces, too, have grown and stretched:

The addition of the new workroom at the end of the Information Center hallway allows us to spread out book-cart and poster projects which typically have utilized the library space into a more intimate environment, where it is that much easier to keep your class on task. In turn, this leaves more opportunity for research projects to be fitted into the library calendar.

Thanks to our IT staff, Lab 1 computers have been upgraded to Windows XP and a newer version of MS Office, which means your Publisher projects can now be taught in either lab. These machines also received more memory over the summer, which makes them best able to support projects which use several types of software at once.

Lab 2 remains as powerful as ever. We’ve replaced the old chalkboards with white boards and a pull-down screen for projection, to better support teaching in the lab. And don’t forget our color laser printer – it will even print overhead projection sheets!

3. One-stop shopping

In light of these new possibilities and resources, the WMS Information center staff has worked hard over the past few weeks to centralize our resources, consolidate our calendar and loan systems, and separate out resource lending from the support we offer teachers and students as they use and plan for using these resources, all in an attempt to create as smooth and transparent method of resource management as possible.

From now on, all information center resources and spaces will be managed directly through the library. Lorry will be your "go to" person to loan out, maintain, and (at your request) set up projectors and other portable resources; she will also manage booking for all four of our information center spaces (the library, Labs 1 and 2, and the workroom). It is our hope that this new "one stop" management approach will make it easier to maintain and track equipment, while making it that much easier for you to plan for resource use in your classes.

Consolidating our resource management in this way also frees up our Information Specialist to better support your needs as a teacher and a confident tool-user. Let us know if you’d like support or co-instruction for you or your students, and we’ll make sure you get what you need, both in the planning stages and in your classroom. If you’re planning a visit to the library or lab computers, we can help you best prepare the space, your network folders, and any special links or other classroom resources you might need. If you’re interested in learning how to use the projector or camera, a lab space, a software package or web-based tool, stop by or email Mr. F, and we can set up a training session.

And, as always, whether you’re looking to spice up an upcoming unit or just thinking ahead about projects to come, consider asking for some time during a shared planning period to explore how to best match your style, your curriculum, and the various tools of our ever-growing "teaching with technology" toolbox!

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Managing the Risks of the Web in the Classroom

Julie Amero is a substitute teacher from Connecticut who was arrested in January for the crime of child endangerment. Her crime? Exposing her students to pornographic pop-up ads, because the computer that she was required to use for her lesson was infected by a "mouse trap" (where "the browser is no longer under the control of the user and porn images will simply keep popping up until the computer is turned off").

At trial, Amero was found guilty of four felonies, and faces as much as 40 years in prison. Her sentencing has been postponed four times -- a fact which ed-bloggers are taking as a hopeful sign. But unless Julie Amero is pardoned, even if she receives no jail time, she will never again be able to teach, and owes tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

For a detailed but readable summary of the Julia Amero tragedy, I recommend this paper from the Center for Safe and Responsible Use of the Internet. There's also more on the ramifications of Amero's story at Learning Now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education, part of the generally excellent teacher's resource section of

Due to the excellent work of our district IT staff, the likelihood that something like this might happen to us is pretty darn close to zero. Our computers' virus protection software and constantly updated network firewall keep most pop-ups and other inappropriate materials from coming in.

But if we ever needed a reminder that eternal vigilance and firm strategies for worst-case scenarios are necessary, this seems like a good one...

  • If you ever see a website coming up in school that you believe to be inappropriate in any way, let Mr. F or our school technician know, and we'll send in the request to have that website added to the district list of blocked sites.

  • For this and many other (and pedagogically beneficial) reasons, if you're planning to send students to a website as part of a lab or classroom activity, always check the website out beforehand, to make sure it hasn't changed since you last saw it.

  • Planning on letting your students find their own resources online? School computers are set up to search Google with "safe search" on , but sometimes content can slip through -- especially on Google Images. IF you choose to let students search the whole web (rather than restricting their web search to a list of pre-approved sites), stationing yourself where you can see most or all students screens helps you ensure that they are on task, and lets you know immediately when something inappropriate comes up.

  • One of the reasons that Amero's case was so interesting is that she had not been taught how to turn off the projector she was asked to use, so she was unable to turn off the offending images quickly when they popped up. If you need a quick lesson on how to turn off a monitor or projector safely and immediately, please ask Mr. F or our school technician for a 2 minute lesson...

  • Safe computing means treating all unknown computers, flash drives, and disks as a potential risk. In the case of disks and flash drives, dragging the content to the network before using it will generally "take care of" any potential problems or malware.

    If a student MUST bring in her laptop or use his flash drive as a way to present or transport work for a class, make sure that the materials are what the student claims they are before letting them show up on a screen in front of those students. And don't let students go "live" on the web on school computers which still have student flash drives or CDs attached to them.

Interested in having your students learn more about how to stay safe online? Worried about staying safe online yourself? Have a concern about how best to use technology in YOUR classroom? Stop by the lab, or email Mr. F to arrange an instructional session or planning period!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

On Beyond Google:
Searching in Web Sources

Part 4 in an ongoing series of tips and tricks to help you and your students improve your search techniques.

It's been a while since many of us did any fact-finding research from a non-fiction book, but I'm sure we all remember the process: find a likely book or three, pull 'em from the library shelves, and turn immediately to the back of the book to see if the subtopic or answer you need is listed in the index. If it is, finding your fact is as painless as flipping to the listed page; if not, you've used very little time, and can move on to the next text quickly.

Long texts are often the best texts, especially when you're looking for spot details that are most likely to be presented in the context of a larger overview or discussion. But as the world of information at our fingertips grows exponentially, students learn to skip over any web page that looks too wordy or long, confident that the same information can be found in a more accessible form on another page.

Problem is, many types of facts aren't available in shorter forms. And even when information IS available elsewhere, this behavior often results in students spending more time on Google than on the content you want them to cover in a webquest or other lab activity.

Today, a quick, five-minutes-or-less lesson on how to search within a single web page...that will save you and your students more time than that, the first time you use it!

-----CUT HERE to use the text below as a handout for students!-----

Looking for a single fact in a sea of information? Don't let be so fast to dismiss long, wordy webpages! Instead, try the find in page strategy to jump right to the information you need quickly and painlessly.

To search within a long web page,
  1. Go to the Edit menu at the top of your screen
  2. Select Find in This Page. A small search box will pop up.
  3. In the box, type the ONE word you think would be both...
    • Unique to the paragraph you’re looking for, and
    • Most often used by this kind of source to describe/talk about the information you need

  4. Hit Enter...and your cursor will jump to the FIRST incidence of that word or phrase in the web page! (Hitting enter again will move on to the next incidence of that word, and so on.)

For example: to find info about how giraffes MOVE without having to skim through thirty dense pages, search within that long webpage or online encyclopedia entry about giraffes for the words MOVE or MOVEMENT.

-----CUT HERE to use the text above as a handout for students!-----

A few tips on introducing and using this strategy in the classroom:

1. As with Googling, word selection is crucial to success. Helping students think about which key word or key phrase to search FOR is part of what makes this strategy effective. Using likely keywords in your own worksheet questions or research guide, or even offering synonym lists for certain terms, will help -- both here, and in their initial Google searches.

2. As with books, of course, context matters; just because a word is there doesn't always mean the page will contain the information you need. Reminding students that they are looking for meaning, not words, seems to be a crucial part of this mini-lesson. It is a matter of moments to make sure your lesson includes a reminder to students that it is their reponsibility to read the entire paragraph they've found, to make sure the information they were looking for is there, before dismissing the page as worthless.

Does this strategy work? You betcha! Observation of a seventh graders science class recently taught this skill reveals that students who learn how to use this simple, effective strategy can accomplish as much as 50% more research in the same class period...and are much less likely to waste time on pages that are not informative. It takes less than five minutes to teach this skill, and that time which is returned to the research process fourfold in the first use! As an added bonus, instead of feeling overwhelmed by text, students report feeling more confident about the research process, and empowered by their growing ability to master text. Everybody wins!

Interested in in-class support as you do research with your students? Want an individual training session on integrating Google and other strategies into your class research? Want to bring your students to the lab for an activity? Email or just stop by the computer lab to set up an appointment!

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Technology for All Learners
Part 1: Presentation in the Diversified Environment

It's a given in education today that project-based learning is one of the best ways for students to engage with, learn, and ultimately retain concepts and skills. But preparing students to learn in a project-based learning environent still involves modeling, direct instruction, and peer presentations. And in all such cases, there will always be a need for direct presentation.

Applying our increasingly familiar diversified instructional strategies isn't always obvious or intuitive when we use presentation media. Videos move along at their own pace; Powerpoint presentations feel so much like performance, it's easy to forget that it's still important to adapt our pacing to the learning needs of our students, even if this means sacrificing some of the theatricality.

But front-of-the-room presentation presents difficulties for many types of students, and keeping an eye on such students can be especially difficult in a darkened room. Some students cannot easily watch and listen at the same time. Many students don't learn well from passive listening, even when such presentation is coupled with visual aids.

Today, some quick tips and tricks for using PowerPoint, video, and other "front of the room" presentation tools more effectively.

1. Set the stage

It's not news than many students benefit from concept previewing -- that is, from an overview of what they are about to see before they see it. Many of us do this already, but it never hurts to reinforce: students should know what they need to watch for before you turn off the lights.

2. Create a focused environment

The human eye is attracted to light. When designing PowerPoint slides, this means light text on a dark background is more effective. When presenting with a projector, turning out all or most of the lights helps students stay focused on the projected image.

Size matters, too. Use big fonts, and less words. If you're projecting something from the web, consider changing the default font size on your browser so that students in the back of the room don't have to strain their eyes to see what's going on. (To do this, just change the text size in the view menu to largest.)

3. Break down the information flow

For decades, media literacy components have advocated showing movies in small "bites", stopping often to answer questions and reinforce classroom and content connections. In a DI environment, such stop-and-start strategies are all the more important, as breaking down the a/v materials both makes the material more manageable...and the frequent pauses provide the extra time needed for students to absorb and consider the material itself before moving on.

Don't let the video be the teacher! Stop often to ask and answer questions, add value, help students catch up and catch on, or just take a quick "absorption break". Other possibilities here include talking over/with the video as it plays -- as an added bonus, creating a dialogue between yourself and the video content models better critical thinking skills for a generation which struggles with ownership of an increasingly mediated world.

Although it may seem that PowerPoint addresses this breakdown by its very nature, the relentless slide-by-slide march of PowerPoint can actually lead students to think that, if it's not on the screen, it's not important enough to matter. Leaving a slide on the screen while you check in with your students can divide their attention -- even if nothing new has shown up on the screen, the light remains attractive. One strategy to address this is to keep a piece of cardboard or paper handy, and use it periodically to block the slide projector lens, reclaiming student attention away from the presentation while you ask them to think about the content for a minute before moving on. (If you do this, make sure you keep the cardboard from touching the lens -- there's nothing like a fire drill for pulling students out of the moment!)

4. Prepare and provide "read-along" accommodations

Studies show that students absorb 25% less material when they see it on a screen. From a distance, student ownership of material is even trickier. As such, although a few of our students are eligible for read-along accommodations, a significant percentage of our students might actually benefit from having an outline or script in front of them when watching a presentation.

There are several variants of handouts which we can prepare, from outlines to full page-by-page paper copies of your slides themselves; you might choose to give them out as read-along copies, or provide them to students who might learn better if they highlight as they go along. (Highlighting a script or printed slide is especially useful for students who might benefit from "extra time" with your multimedia presentation) Each way of providing a presentation handout supports a different relationship between the information on the screen and the students ability to own and learn that information.

Not all students benefit from or need paper during a presentation, of course, and preparing low-resolution read-along "classroom copies" of your powerpoint presentation does use paper and ink, but having a few copies of both types of handout ready to give to students who might benefit from them is worth doing if you think it will make a difference.

Such printed documents also benefit students who are being asked to read off individual workstation screens, of course. In both cases, we're happy to prepare outlines or slideshow handouts for you in the labs before your visit or classroom activity.

5. Consider making the video or presentation available outside of class

Just like any text, your presentation or video is important to your curriculum. But where having a student review that text with you on your afterschool day is intuitive and easy, providing an opportunity for that same student to review video or PowerPoint presentations is not. Similarly, where we often copy texts to send home for students who have been absent, legal issues and our rental contract with Blockbuster can confound any attempt to give that same student access to multimedia texts outside of the classroom.

Printing out the materials can help, of course -- when the materials exist in a printable form, that is. But if the print-out were an effective replacement for the multimedia -- that is, if the written word offered the same chance for comprehension and retention -- you'd have used that for all your students in the first place, right?

Luckily, many of the texts we use, from United Streaming materials to our own PowerPoint presentations, can be legally re-distributed through our network -- making them available for students to review after school via the homework center or lab. Additionally, in most cases, fair use laws and accommodations standards allow us to show videos a second time to students outside of the classroom, assuming that video has already been shown to the class as part of the same unit. To get assistance in navigating the legal and technical issues involved in "re-covering" such multimedia materials, please see Mr. F in the lab.

Need some help planning your use of multimedia in your next classroom unit? Want to develop some great read-along handouts for your inclusion blocks? Ready to reserve that projector? Got a great teaching with technology strategy to share? Stop by the lab anytime!

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Home...and Back Again
Student Projects and the Death of the Disk

Today's knotty issue: how best to help students carry digital work effectively between home and school.

Once upon a time it was easy to make homework time an important component of project work. Students carried their notes and posterboard to and from home, borrowed books when they could, and used the public library to supplement school resources.

And it was good. Our ability to create a fluid environment between home and school, homework and classwork, especially as part of an ongoing project, helped students learn the organization, production and development skills which they need in high school and in life.

Then the possibilities of presentation began to include a virtual component. Student worked back and forth between paper and computer, posterboard and network; the sources and the spaces for development became more diverse.

And supporting fluidity of work between home and school became more challenging.

Posters and paper still have an important place in the work of our students, of course. But the broader set of presentation and development tools which digital technology affords, coupled with the rapid pace of change of those technologies over the past few years, can lay a bumpy foundation for what should be a vital aspect of student work and development.

Two or three years ago, however, even this was a mostly manageable challenge. With a few important exceptions, every student had a basic computer at home, and was able to use floppy disks to easily port work in development between home and school and back again. Our biggest challenge in those years was access -- how do we use computers in school, and how can we plan for their use?

But recent, rapid changes in technology have hit each student differently. Every kid has a kitchen table big enough to lay out poster board, but not every student has software or hardware compatible with our school technology. Most students have home printers, but some do not. Most students have computers with a fast internet connection, but some must compete for those home resources.

More generally, technology use has skyrocketed, just as computers themselves are changing under our feet.

And the labs recently ran out of recycled floppy disks. Which, it turns out, may be a good thing after all.

There are several reasons why we're long overdue to replace floppy disk data transfer between school and home:
  1. Disks are on the way out. Computers purchased in the past year or two don't usually come with floppy drives; as such, ironically, many of our students who have access to the newest technology are least able to use our current standard for moving data. In our worst cases, students are still using disks, but have no way to access them once they get home!

  2. Disks are too small. Projects are beginning to come in too big to fit. Publisher and Powerpoint projects, especially, often transcend the limitations of floppy disk size, due to their heavy use of images.

  3. Disks are too fragile. Magnets can erase their content; the physical object of the disk itself is too easily broken, and the content lost. While these physical issues have always existed, it was once thought that a new digital generation would be naturally more capable of protecting their disks. Instead, we find that disks are so rare for students outside of school, today's digitally-savvy kids may be even less prepared to take good care of their disks...until it's too late.

So what can we do?

One solution is to begin moving away from supporting disks to better supporting those media which are becoming common to all newer computers.

The recent addition of Windows XP workstations to our classrooms has made supporting flash drives and CDs a thousand times easier than before.
  • In a Windows 98 environment, using flash drives meant installing software (called a driver) for each type of flash drive, which was very time-consuming. Windows XP, on the other hand, is "plug and play" -- it automatically recognizes flash drives as just another storage space.

  • New CD burners allow us to send students home with stronger, larger, less fragile versions of their works-in-progress. (Hint: using rewritable disks allows students to keep re-using the same CDs throughout the year, rather than wasting all that plastic for a single word document.)

  • New network configurations, including the ability to "see" the student network under a teacher's network login, allow you to move student content fluidly from computer to computer throughout the building

These solutions are not ideal, yet. Moving documents around so much leaves us open to confusion. How many of us have lost track of which computer, disk or drive has the most recent version of our work?

But happily, using "sneakerware" -- an old tech term for "carrying disks, CDs and flash drives from one computer to another" -- is fast becoming moot. In the next few months, watch this space for a look at our plans to begin supporting student use of Internet storage spaces, which can be accessed from both home and school -- an even more stable, more simple, and more student-centered solution than sending emails back and forth.

Want to learn how best to manage moving documents from here to there? Frustrated by those constant end-of-day emails and attachment requests from your students? Need a network folder for your class projects? Instruction for your students to learn how best to store, move, and organize their digital work? Stop by the lab, or email us -- we're here to help!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Effective Lab Management Strategies
Making the most of your time in the lab

It takes no more than a minute or two to take a well-prepared class into a well-prepared learning environment. So why does it feel like we lose so much time when we transition from one space to another? Why is it so hard to keep students focused in the computer labs? What’s the most effective way to incorporate lab and library into your project planning?

Today, some tricks and tips for effective lab management.

Time lost between the classroom and a shared resource space such as a lab or library is a real concern, but don't let it keep you from planning curricular units which incorporate resource spaces! These losses can be minimized, if not totally eradicated, if we remember to apply the same classroom management strategies to our use of shared resource spaces that we use so successfully in our own classrooms.

Just like in the classroom, making the most of your class time in the lab or library comes from planning ahead...considering the learning environment, and developing project units and instructional strategies which use this environment to its maximum potential...and taking advantage of all the resources available, from specialists and paraprofessionals to the hardware, software, and network access of the computers themselves.

With careful planning, the time it takes to shift a lesson from classroom to lab and back again can be reduced to the time it takes to walk down the stairs...or less!

Step 1: Prepare your curriculum with the learning environment in mind.

When considering a project which would benefit from lab or library use, consider meeting with the library paraprofessional or instructional specialist during the planning phase.

When you think of a lab or library as merely a space full of books and computers, “planning” for use may involve little more than reserving those resources and spaces for the time you expect to need them. But just as a classroom is much more than a room for learning in, the potential of a library or lab is a reflection of many factors.

For example, as discussed in a previous blog entry, the current layout of each space may make one better than the others for a given phase of your project. You may find that the best way to serve student needs in a multi-phase project is to reserve a different lab space for each phase.

More generally, our two computer labs are designed primarily for one-on-one work, not presentation, so you may want to consider using a data projector in your classroom to model lab activities, or to offer technology instruction with or without the assistance of the information specialist, before relocating your students to the lab for their individual research and project development.

In addition to helping you consider which particular learning space might best serve each phase of your project, library and lab staff also may have ideas about timing, resource availability, or new resources – from instructional sessions to books and computer tools – to better serve your needs, and the needs of your students, for this particular project.

Since we see every class that comes into these spaces, we will also be able to help you think about previous projects or instruction which your students received in another class…which may, in turn, affect your own sense of what they are capable of.

Step 2: Prepare the learning environment to best serve your students and your curriculum.

Consider the physical space, the available materials, and the virtual resources available for your use…but don’t forget that many of these things can be moved or modified to better serve your needs.

For example, you may be interested in using this particular project to help students learn how to search for relevant articles on a given subject, or to evaluate websites for bias and legitimacy – which may mean asking a resource specialist to offer a few minutes of instruction for students on how to locate such materials. On the other hand, if your goal is to have students be immersed in the resources right off the bat, asking library or lab staff to prepare a collection of books or a network folder of links for your particular class project beforehand means all the resources are ready when you arrive.

To speed up the transition from classroom to resource space, bring any needed materials to the library or lab before school, and we can put them out for you and your students before you arrive!

For computer-based projects, consider specifying an ideal computer configuration as well. Want the computers logged on but the monitors off when students arrive? Need speakers or scrap paper ready to go? You can even ask us to drop links or documents directly on computer desktops or screens, so that students can get right to work the moment they sit down.

Step 3: Prepare your class to make the most of their time in the lab.

Teachers who describe their lab use as efficient and successful tend to be those who spend time beforehand in the classroom going over everything from lab and project expectations to the specific tasks which they will be asked to accomplish that day.

One of the things that can slow down effective use of a lab or library is waiting until you arrive to give students a sense of purpose. The labs and libraries have distractions that classrooms do not; asking students to look over a computer monitor makes screenplay during instructional time that much more tempting. Waiting until you arrive to speak with them about task breakdowns and suggested work strategies for that day's activity leaves the deck stacked against you.

Don’t lecture in the lab! Instead, leave instruction, modeling, and presentation in the classroom wherever possible! Lab spaces are primarily designed to maximize effective one-on-one computer work; the classroom is often a much better (and less distracting) place to model or instruct with projection before taking students down to the lab. We are aware that the lab spaces need stronger multimedia projection capability, and are working with district staff and the PTO Technology Committee to address this need. In the meanwhile, we have several projectors which we'd be happy to set up in your classroom before the day begins.

Also, consider asking the resource room staff to meet you and your students in your classroom as you prepare to come to the lab or library for the first day of your project. As we walk down, we can answer questions about use policies; as we walk in together, we can help remind students to sign in as they sit down, which helps remind students about accountability.

For subsequent days in a lab or library, why meet in the classroom at all? Leaving a note on the door telling students to meet in the resource space allows students to begin right on time.

Step 4: Sustain an environment of accountability.

At home, students experience computers as playspaces, and tend to multitask; asking them to focus on a single task in a lab or library setting can be challenging. We see this in their lab behavior – for example, in student tendencies to play with screensavers in the middle of research periods – and in the difficulty we experience getting students to stay on task more generally in these settings.

Several strategies we are just starting to utilize will have a positive impact here. Asking students to sign in to their computer workstation every time they use a computer will have some impact on accountability. Reminding students about the stakes for the day’s activity before you bring them to the lab can help our most responsible learners stay focused.

But student habits are hard to break. Some additional lab management strategies teachers have found useful include:

Teach from the back of the classroom, so students know you can see their screens.

Consider worksheets, notecards, printouts, link lists, or other tangible product as part of your activity, both as a guide to students throughout the period and as an assessment tool in helping you and your students better track their progress throughout a project.

Plan for bite-sized tasks throughout the period, and check in with the whole class about their progress several times throughout the period. In my own classes, I stop all work every twenty minutes or so to answer questions and, more importantly, to ask a few students to share something they’ve learned since they have begun. Students are less likely to goof off with desktop backgrounds if they know they will be held accountable for every minute!

Step 5: Leave when you’re done (but accommodate students who need extra time)

It sounds like a no-brainer, but many of us lose valuable time in the research and development phase of long-term projects by keeping students in the lab for an entire period even after many of them have finished their work. Meanwhile, students, who often underestimate how long a computerized task will take, may play throughout the period, get distracted, and leave with their work unfinished.

One good way to keep fast workers from distracting others when they have finished their lab work is to have “extra” computer-based activities ready for those who finish early. Consider these activities in your planning stages – if you had extra time for each student, what additional lab or library components would you have included in the project?

If you are teaching with a partner, and can cover both spaces effectively, consider allowing students who have finished their task to go back to the classroom.

Of course, you can also plan ahead by asking students to bring their ELA or SSR book with them, just in case they finish early!

If some of your students need extra time in the labs to complete (or catch up on) a lab-based project, consider hosting your after school hours in the lab. Mr. F can also be available to help students on your after school day by arrangement.

Have a success story to share about your own use of lab spaces? Thinking about a new activity, but not sure how to make the most of your time and resources? Want to meet with an instructional specialist or library paraprofessional to explore ways to “tighten up” your existing lab or library project? Stop by anytime, or email us with your questions and ideas. We’re here to help!