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Whole-Class Presentations
Demonstrating software
Presenting computer-related projects
Conducting Internet simulations
Computer Teams
Collaborative learning stations
Whole-class spreadsheets
Independent Work
Independent work in the computer lab
Independent work in the classroom
Expert advice on the Web
Student-led presentations
Independent work stations
Special Issues and Challenges in the Classroom
Students with different amounts of computer experience and savvy
Students without a computer at home
Computer problems
Multiple computers in the classroom
High-performance computers in the lab

I. Whole-Class Presentations

Most classrooms have one to five computers, which restricts the amount of time students are able to individually spend on the computer. An effective use of limited computer resources is to lead whole-class presentations, where students can learn about technology and participate in projects.

Whole-class presentations provide visually dynamic tools that easily convey information to the class and help motivate them about the project. They also bring the class together, while encouraging them to focus on specific skills or subject matters.

It is very important for each student to have a clear view of the demonstration screen. Use a large display, such as a television monitor, LCD panel, or video projection system. If a large viewing screen is not available, have your students rotate through the demonstration while others are working on independent group activities.

Also, let your technology specialists or coordinator know that you will be conducting a whole-class presentation, so assistance is readily available if problems arise.

Since students are not using the computers during the presentation, there is the danger that they will lose interest. Using multimedia is a great way to keep your students engaged. Multimedia can range from PowerPoint presentations with animated text and graphics to video streams on the Internet. A number of radio stations "Web-cast" their programs, and many special events and conference presentations are also delivered live over the Web.

To get you started in the world of Internet multimedia, take a look at the following Web sites:

Sites with Multimedia Information and Reviews  

If you are using the Internet during a whole-class presentation, bookmark your Web sites in advance so that lessons can be run as seamlessly as possible. Check Web sites before using them in your demonstration to make sure that unwanted material are not accidently presented and that your students do not find anything inappropriate if they visit the site on their own. Also keep in mind that your lesson can be disrupted if Internet access is interrupted or unavailable. As a preventive measure, save the Web sites to your hard drive so that the pages will be available whether or not you have access to the Internet.

To save Web pages to your hard drive:

  • Use our step-by-step guide to saving a Web site using Internet Explorer.
  • Use WebWhacker' software. To download a 15-day trial demo and view the WebWhacker user guide, go to
If you would prefer not to save Web pages to your hard drive, print out the Web pages you will be using for the demonstration. The printed pages can be distributed to your students if the Internet goes down.

Types of Whole-Class Presentations

With so many resources and options available, it can be a daunting task to decide what types of information to present to your class. We recommend three types of whole-class presentations:

  1. Demonstrating software
  2. Introducing computer-related projects
  3. Conducting Internet simulations

1. Demonstrating software

Since your students only have a limited amount of individual computer time, demonstrate the software they will be using to give them a head start. For instance, it may be useful to demonstrate a word processing application, such as Appleworks or Microsoft Word, during which you can teach your students the basics about fonts, tabs, bullets, numbering, and other word processing essentials.

To keep your students attentive and on-task, give them handouts that include screen captures of the software you are demonstrating. They can use the visual guide to follow along and remember your presentation. The handouts also provide a convenient place for students to jot down notes. When they begin working at the computer independently, provide additional reference material at the computer stations, such as step-by-step, illustrated instructions on how to use the application.

2. Presenting computer-related projects

Whole-class presentations are also useful for introducing computer-related projects. For example, you assign your students to create a PowerPoint presentation about animals that live in the rain forest. First show the entire class a sample presentation of the different kinds of slides they can create, highlighting types of information and multimedia that you would like to see.

Once the demonstration is complete, remember that students will still need specific, written instructions about their assignment. Also, create bookmarks for your students' future use (especially for earlier grade level classes) by conducting a preliminary Internet search for appropriate sites.

3. Conducting Internet simulations

Even with the best supporting materials, students can get antsy during whole-class presentations. Leading your class in an Internet-based simulation can be just the trick to keep students interested. Simulations are multimedia-based Internet sites that dynamically demonstrate information and activities (e.g., what happens when two liquids are mixed together or how a car engine works). Take a look at and for examples of simulations.

Don't let the idea of Internet-based multimedia scare you -- playing multimedia over the Internet can be a problem-free process. Use plug-ins, tools that allow you to watch, listen to, and interact with multimedia over the Internet. Our plug-ins tip sheet will help you find and install the most commonly used plug-ins.

Although you may have to download some video or audio files before playing them, there are also sites that offer streaming audio and video -- allowing you to play media without downloading to your hard drive. The quality of streaming media depends on the speed of your Internet connection. It is best to have a high-speed connection, such as cable, DSL, T1 or T3 line. A dial-up connection will also work for playing streaming multimedia, but be forewarned -- quality will be lower and choppy or sluggish.

When using streaming video in a whole-class setting, maximize the video window and project the image via an LCD panel, television monitor, or video projection system to facilitate entire class viewing. If enlarging the video produces a blurry image, you may need to download the file to the computer's hard drive and have students watch the video in small groups.

For more information about using the Internet as an interactive tool for the classroom, check out Thirteen Ed Online's Concept to Classroom free workshop series.

II. Computer Teams

Although whole-class presentations are a wonderful way to demonstrate technology and present information to your class, they still do not give your students hands-on computer experience. Collaborative learning, in which students work in teams to explore a question or create a project, helps maximize classroom computer use. Students gathered around one computer work together, asking each other questions, sharing ideas, and leading each other through the assignment. For more information about cooperative and collaborative learning, check out Thirteen Ed Online's Concept to Classroom free workshop series.

When students are working in the computer lab, take advantage of collaborative learning if there are not enough computers for each student -- create teams of two to three students for each computer. Having teams in the computer lab is also a great way to allow them to work simultaneously on the same computer-related project.

Student teams should be as self-sufficient as possible. We recommend providing students with an assignment worksheet that describes what they need to accomplish and how much time they have to complete each task. To help you track and assess your students' progress, the assignment worksheet also functions as a location where students record the information they have gathered.

Most teachers and technology-training experts recommend that:

  • Students work in teams of two to four, especially since the limited space around the computer usually impacts comfortable monitor viewing by all team members.
  • Teams consist of students of mixed ability levels. If one student has difficulty, other more knowledgeable team members can help out.
  • Each team member is responsible for a specific part of a research assignment, and students should rotate their roles regularly.
Assigning a specific role to each student (or allowing students to choose their own roles) is essential to keeping students attentive and on-task. Here are some ideas for student team roles:

  • recorder - records the group's work on the assignment worksheet and writes down any relevant notes.
  • keyboarder - mans the computer.
  • idea creator - offers tips on search techniques and keywords.
  • technician - handles any hardware or software glitches.
  • leader or organizer - determines order in which tasks are to be done and makes sure the group follows that order.
  • assessor - uses a rubric or guide to evaluate the progress of each meeting.
When computer problems occur while students are working on collaborative projects, give students a list of steps to follow before they ask you for help. Make sure that they:

  • Try to solve the problem among the members of their team.
  • Consult the "Help" section found in most software programs.
  • Ask the teaching assistant (if one is available).
It is also useful to create a hardware troubleshooting checklist that lists the solutions to the most common computer problems. Distribute a copy of the checklist to each team or post the checklist at each computer station. You might also consider choosing students with a high level of computer knowledge to be members of a peer swat team that is dedicated to helping students solve problems. Depending on the knowledge of your students, the peer swat team can help with everything from specific software programs to printing problems.

1. Collaborative learning stations

One of the best ways to set up collaborative projects is to have student teams work at learning stations. Each learning station has supplies and materials that work well together and give students the tools to complete an activity or project. With learning stations, students get an opportunity to use the computer while making use of other school and classroom resources.

To set up learning stations, divide the classroom into different types of learning activity centers such as:

  • a text and reference book station
  • a drawing station
  • a computer center
  • a teacher-directed center
  • a team discussion and planning center
  • a multimedia center
In general, four or five learning stations work best for completing assignments and maintaining good classroom control. But even if you have a significantly larger class size that requires more learning stations, you can still run an effective project. Another alternative is to increase the number of students per team, but keep in mind that it is best to avoid more than five students per computer or multimedia center team. Students can become disinterested and restless if they have too little to do as a team member.

Before assigning your students to their computer learning station, make sure to:

  • Explain to students the purpose of each learning station.
  • Perform a demonstration of each learning station.
  • Prepare Bookmarks/Favorites to direct students to appropriate Internet resources.
  • Post computer use rules that include instructions for teams that finish early.
  • Supply an assignment worksheet that will keep students on-task and help you track their progress.
  • Supply a rubric or other form of assessment to evaluate your students' work.
With so many teams working independently, it is important to define the amount of time students should spend at each station. The type of project, the students' grade level, and your classroom schedule will help you decide on a reasonable time limit. We recommend keeping the amount of time at each station between 20 and 30 minutes, which gives you time for a lesson introduction and a wrap-up session. Providing a time limit will also help keep your students from getting bored and restless.

Once you have decided on time limits, be sure that your students are aware of how much time they have to work at each station. You can include information about time limits and other guidelines in the assignment worksheet.

2. Whole-class spreadsheets

Students can work together to create a collaborative spreadsheet, specifically organized to help them research and analyze data. A spreadsheet allows you to organize data in rows and columns of cells. Each cell contains information and the spreadsheet allows you to determine how different cells depend on one another.

For instance, create a spreadsheet that calculates how much you have spent each month on classroom supplies. If you create a column for each month and create a row for each item you have purchased, you can have the spreadsheet automatically calculate how much you have spent. It will update the total amount of money whenever you enter new information.

excel graphic spreadsheet

In the above example, notice that the spreadsheet includes an overall total amount of money spent throughout the year. This total changes accordingly when the spreadsheet is updated with new data.

In addition to making it easy to perform calculations, spreadsheets allow students to generate charts for a visual representation of the results. Since spreadsheets are based upon numbers and calculations, they work well with projects that involve tracking data over a period of time, such as the yearly rainfall in Brazil or the temperature changes during the month of April. A spreadsheet can contain a large amount of information, so be sure to include detailed guidelines on the type of information required and how much data is necessary on the assignment worksheet.

Because spreadsheets contain a lot of data, they usually involve a great deal of computer work. Students that are not manning the computer can easily become frustrated or bored. Try printing out a spreadsheet that students can use to begin recording information. Have each member find a specific set of information or data so that everyone on the team has something to contribute.

Assigning specific roles for each member will also help keep all team members engaged. The following list provides some ideas for team member roles:
  • Data collectors (collect the data)
  • Data entry specialists (enter the data)
  • Data checkers (verify that the data has been entered correctly)
  • Designers (design the spreadsheets)
For more information about cooperative and collaborative learning, including teams, check out Thirteen Ed Online's Concept to Classroom free workshop series.

III. Independent Work

When students need to learn a complex software program or they just need practice using the computer, nothing beats independent time on the computer.

1. Independent work in the computer lab

The computer lab is the best place to give students individual computer access since they usually have a significant block of time to work. With all students working on computers, there is also less distraction in the lab.

But even with fewer distractions, an entire classroom of students working independently can create some management headaches. Several students might be vying for your attention or asking you questions, while others may be having computer problems. To help minimize problems, go over computer lab rules and the assignment before you leave the classroom. You can also make use of whole-class presentations to prepare your students for their lab work.

A list of answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) can be a helpful reference to students at the computer station. If they cannot find an answer using the FAQ, students can:

  • Use the software "help" section
  • Look through the software manual
  • Ask the peer swat team
  • Go to the Web for help. Most commercial software sites have FAQs about their software or an email address specifically dedicated to software questions and problems. There are also newsgroups available to help.
Since lab students have access to a computer for a block of time, they can work on more sophisticated software that requires a lot of independent work and study. It is best to have all students working on the same software -- they can help each other out when questions or problems arise.

Ideally, first have students begin work on basic skills. As you progress to more sophisticated skills, keep in mind that students will begin going at their own pace. It will take some students longer to adjust or understand than others. Let the students work on their own, providing guidance when necessary. If you have a peer swat team, be sure those students are available to help students who are progressing slower and need assistance.

2. Independent work in the classroom

Even if you only have one or two computers in your classroom, they can still be used for independent work:
  1. Develop student presentations
  2. Use the computer as a work station
  3. Communicate with subject experts over the Web

3. Expert advice on the Web

The Web is alive with hundreds of subject-specific experts that are happy to electronically communicate with your students and answer their questions. There are online experts in almost every topic imaginable, from Astronomy to Rodeo Journalism. Teachers can direct students to online experts for questions they can not answer or for topics that require specialized knowledge. Students can also use online experts as another resource for their individual projects. In the lower grades, teachers can use online experts to complement lessons that teach communication and technology skills. Two excellent online expert Web sites are and Since students are communicating with an unknown person over the Web, make sure online expert Web sites are thoroughly investigated before allowing your students to access them.

A possible drawback to getting expert advice from the Web is the response time. In many cases, responses occur within hours, but depending on the expert's schedule, a day or two may pass before your students get a response. It is important that your students are prepared for a delayed response. Have your students develop a set of potential questions at the start of the project so that they can contact the expert as early in the project as possible. Also make sure students have other things to work on so that they are not dependent on the expert to continue their project.

4. Student-led presentations

Students can develop a multimedia presentation for demonstration before the class for their final project. This allows students to build their computer skills, share their work with others, exercise their creativity, and develop public speaking skills. PowerPoint and HyperStudio are two popular software programs used in K-12 to present information in a dynamic slide show format. Text, charts, graphs, sound effects, and video are just some of the elements that students can incorporate into their presentations.

Give students guidelines for sizing fonts, charts, and graphs so that slide shows progress smoothly and can be seen by all students, including the ones in the back of the room. It is best to use a television monitor, LCD panel, or video projection system to enlarge the image. Be sure that your students do a run-through on their own to check for errors or problems before the presentation.

5. Independent work stations

To take full advantage of the software programs and Internet resources available, set up your classroom computers as independent workstations that students can reserve to work on their own projects. Here are three workstation suggestions as a starting point:

1. Research workstation Students can search the Web for almost any kind of information, including word definitions, maps, and historical trends and events. Bookmark good search sites, such as or, to help get them started.
2. Multimedia workstation Using graphics, audio, and Web tools like PowerPoint, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, HyperStudio, students can create Web pages, design computer-based art, and make their own electronic music.
3. Typing workstation Independent computer time is a great opportunity for students to enhance their typing skills. Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, Nimblefingers, and Magictype are just a few of the typing programs available.

Include a sign-up sheet at the computer workstation so that students know the computer's availability and can reserve a block of time. Use the sign-in sheet to monitor how much time each student works independently.

IV. Special Issues and Challenges in the Classroom

As with any specialized learning tool, computers in the classroom will present their own unique series of challenges and hassles.

1. Students with different amounts of computer experience and savvy

A wide array of computer knowledge and experience can exist in your classroom. It is important to assess your students' computer skills and knowledge with a technology knowledge pre-assessment before giving them computer access. A pre-assessment will allow you to quickly discover the amount of support each student requires, as well as assist you in pairing up students according to skills and computer knowledge.

Once you have an idea of your students' ability levels, accommodate for their needs by:

  • Holding small demonstrations for the less savvy students while the rest of the class works at learning centers.
  • Giving less knowledgeable students independent tasks on the computer to help them build skills.
  • Planning your teaching assistant's schedule to allow more time to work with the less knowledgeable students.
You can also assign different roles to your students based on their knowledge level. The more knowledgeable students can be members of a peer swat team that helps students with software problems, Internet questions, or computer assignments. Members of the peer swat team can also work independently, researching and pre-bookmarking sites for future lessons.

2. Students without a computer at home

Some students may be unable to do computer-based homework because they do not have a computer at home. You can assist these students in several ways:
  • Provide supervised after school access to computer labs and the school library.
  • Create a school or public library association in which students have evening and weekend access to computers.
  • Find out if any Community Learning Centers (or Computer Learning Centers) exist in your area, and distribute information about using its computers.
  • Develop homework assignments that can be done with or without a computer.
  • Set up a donate-a-computer program with local businesses.
  • Contact computer companies that offer schools special lease packages -- they usually average around $50 a month per computer.

3. Computer problems

A sudden, mysterious crash or software glitch can spoil the best-laid plans for delivering curriculum with a computer. Your peer swat team can help out when your computer starts acting up.

Assign one or two specialties to each member of the team -- this prevents individuals from being overburdened, and the expertise in one area helps build self-esteem. Depending on their knowledge and experience, your peer swat team can help you with hardware issues, printing problems, working with multimedia, specific software programs, and saving files. Make sure the swat team members understand that they should only address computer problems at your request. Contact your building's technology specialists or coordinator if your peer swat team cannot solve your problem.

Many teachers can have their students save their work on a server, which is a hard drive on a separate computer specifically dedicated to saving large volumes of files. The network, which connects each computer to the server, can present its own series of problems. Remind your students to save their work often, and have them save their work to a back-up folder on the desktop so they can access the files regardless of network availability. When they are finished with their project, or when the class period is over, make sure your students copy their work to the server and remove their files from the desktop. Your classroom computer's hard drive can run out of space if students save too many files on the classroom computer instead of on the server. For more information about managing technical issues and digital files, see

4. Multiple computers in the classroom

If you have more than one computer in the classroom, you will need to arrange your computers. The most important rule is that all computer monitors should face the center of the room -- never toward the walls -- so you can monitor what students are doing at a glance. To get you started, we have provided models for several different room layouts.

Because printers are noisy and can become a distraction when multiple groups are waiting for their printouts, place the printer in the corner farthest from your learning stations. If multiple groups are printing at the same time, some print jobs will be delayed while others are printing. Make sure students understand that their pages will print and that they should only press the print key once. You might want to assign one of your peer swat team members to monitor printing activity.

5. High-performance computers in the lab

What should you do when some computers in the lab are more powerful and sophisticated than the others? It makes little sense to place students on computers they do not know how to use. At the same time, every student should learn how to use all of the available resources and find the value in low-performance and high-performance computers. Because certain software programs may only be available on the high-performance computers, set up the high-performance computers as peer tutor sites -- the more computer savvy students can teach less knowledgeable students how to use the software on the high-performance computers.


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