Computer Center Ideas
If your classroom is like most, you probably have one to four computers set up in a learning pod. This arrangement works well for setting up an independent activity center where students complete tasks you've assigned. In my own classroom, I set aside 40 minutes each day for students to work on center activities such as the computer center. If you can't spare this much time, you can still make use of a computer center during "down times" such as during roll call or journaling time each day.
Making a Computer Center Work
Before you begin planning your personal center strategy, it helps to think about the dynamics of your classroom. Do you use learning centers regularly? If so, you'll find your students adapt quickly to using a computer center. If centers are a new concept in your room, take the time to discuss with students your procedures for moving to and from the computer center as well as how they should hand in completed center activities. Think also about your daily schedule. How many days will it take for every student to visit the computer center? Posting a computer schedule with times for each student helps keep the "Is it my turn yet?" questions at bay. Finally, think about classroom arrangement. If a small group of students will be using computers while the rest are at their desks, make sure the computers don't become a distraction. Inexpensive headphones can help, as can rotating monitors away from the classroom. By preparing yourself for the mechanics of maintaining a computer center, the time your students spend there will be much more productive.
Here are some of my best tips for making computer centers work:
Tip 1: So that you don't have to reinvent the wheel each year, and so that students can use the computer center independently, write directions for computer activities on index cards or poster board and laminate them.
Tip 2: Try to create activities that correlate to your current studies — you may want to check your teacher's guides for suggestions of related computer activities. Once you come up with a great idea, make a note in your subject area guide so that you'll remember to use it when you come to that unit again next year.
Tip 3: When it comes to activities for your computer center, start with lessons that can be completed in one session. It helps to give all students a chance to have success with several simple computer assignments before trying their hand at a long-term project.
Tip 4: Before assigning an activity, try completing the assignment yourself, or even better, find a student to test the activity for you. (Volunteers for this job are never hard to find in my room!) This will let you know if the activity can be completed in the time you've allotted and if your directions are clear.
Tip 5: Select a student to be the "Computer Expert" each week. Allow this student to complete the assignment first and then answer any questions that may arise while other students work through the activity. This helps free you from the role of task monitor while allowing your students to become mentors for one another.
Tip 6: Agree on a signal that students can use if they need help while working on a task. My favorite is to place a brightly colored plastic cup next to each computer. When students need help, they place their cup on top of their computer as a signal for assistance. Once they've gotten help, the cup is placed beside their computer again.
Computer Center Activity Ideas
Great ideas for your computer center activities are boundless. At the start of the school year, create scavenger hunts that help students learn to use an application while exploring the features available. This not only helps you learn which students are comfortable with computers (and will make great computer aides), it also helps build student confidence with the applications you plan to use all year long.
Download and post these ready to print activity cards (PDF document).
WebQuests are another fun activity that can be used for most any subject. Create a list of questions for students to answer, then bookmark a list of websites for them to use in their search.
Don't underestimate the value of those tried and true applications like word processors and drawing programs either. Without a lot of software training for students, you can create an unlimited number of activities for virtually any subject. My favorite center activities almost always start with the words: "Draw a picture to illustrate..." or "Write a letter to a friend explaining..."
The activities that you create don't have to be long or involved. In fact, some can be ongoing. One of the activities my fifth grade students enjoy most is the never-ending story. At the beginning of the week, I type a story starter on each of the computers in our center. As students rotate through the center, they each add a paragraph to the story. On Friday, we spend the last period of the day reading the stories aloud.
Other ideas include creating illustrations for science terms that can be posted on a bulletin board, typing and illustrating sentences using spelling or vocabulary words, or drawing representations of fractions, decimals, or percents. The most important thing is that you give the students an opportunity to share what they've accomplished, which ultimately reinforces the concept of the computer center as a place to learn. And who knows, you might just impress your principal enough to get another computer or two!