My closets may be messy, dust bunnies may love me, and my refrigerator — don’t even go there! But I’ve always been proud of my tidy virtual existence, my well-organized files and a sparkling inbox. Therefore, when I recently noticed that my computer desktop was cluttered with exactly 267 misplaced documents, I knew it was time for a virtual spring-cleaning! Here are some tips for the only type of “cleaning” that I stand a chance at accomplishing.
Just as dust loves to gather in the book baskets in my classroom, there are certain places where unnecessary data undoubtedly piles up on a computer. Find the “downloads folder” on your computer, and you’ll be amazed at the long list of files you’ve amassed. Chances are that you really don’t need to keep any of these downloaded files at all. Apply the same principle you use for that sweater you haven’t worn for two years: if you haven’t been using the file, then you really don’t need it. So, send it to the trash!
Next, check out your Web browsers and scan your list of “bookmarked” or “favorite” Web sites. Some of these bookmarks may be pretty old. I realized that a few of my bookmarks no longer even worked! Delete your outdated bookmarks so that you have an updated, streamlined list.
Don’t forget to empty your computer’s recycling or trash bin. I love “taking out the trash” virtually — no need to get my hands dirty!
I used to save a lot of paperwork in my classroom: samples of student work, worksheets I had created, professional development handouts and more. In just a few years, my shelves were quickly filling up with binders full of old documents, and I just couldn’t keep up with all of this paperwork that needed to be filed away.
Last year I decided that the paper-saving had to stop, and I bought a scanner to save the day. Now, I scan the majority of teaching paperwork that comes my way, and I save the files in organized folders. I’ve even taught a few of my techie students how to scan documents to help me out. When I want to refer back to an old assignment, I just head to my computer. The original document? If it’s student work, it heads home in a backpack, otherwise it goes right into the real-world trash bin.
For projects that are too large to scan, I take photos instead, and add these to my computer filing system. I also photograph classroom charts before I take them down, so that I can always refer back to my old charts. Then, I just throw the chart away when we’re through with it!
Many of us teachers work on different computers over the course of the school year. I have schoolwork on my computer at home, on a desktop computer in my classroom, and on the laptop that is connected to my interactive whiteboard. It is so frustrating when I go to work on a document at home — only to realize that the document is actually on my school computer!
I decided to pick one computer as my “primary residence,” and I make sure to save a copy of every file I create on this computer. For me, this means that I save everything I do on my school computers onto a flash drive. Then I add these files to my computer at home, my virtual home base.
This is the most important step when organizing your computer! A logical hierarchy of folders and subfolders makes a huge difference when it comes to using our computers efficiently. Within my documents folder, I keep a range of subfolders that go three, four, even five layers deep.
I keep separate folders within “my documents” for lesson plans, completed student work, family correspondence, etc. So, within my lesson plans folder, there are many layers of folders. For example: documents → lesson plans → math → operations → division. I file all of my division lesson plans, worksheets, and even educational movie clips in my division subfolder. Then, when it comes time to teach the division unit next year, I only need to go to one place for all of the resources I’ve created and collected.
Here's my virtual filing system for multiplication resources.
If you like to court mayhem and disaster, by all means skip over this step. However, for all the sensible, seat belt-wearing, brake-on-yellow teachers out there, this step is essential! Make sure to back up the data on your computer’s hard drive frequently, and you’ll be spared a lot of heartache, frustration, and expense down the line.
Why back up? Well, things eventually go wrong with even the trustiest computers: hard drives fail, viruses attack, and fire, water, and spilled Elmer’s glue give your computer a severe, irreversible case of amnesia. However, if you saved a copy of your documents, videos, photos, and music in another location, hard drive failure is merely a fender bender, not a total wreck.
There are many options for backing up your computer’s data to another storage device. They all accomplish the same goal — they save files to a secondary location in case your primary storage (i.e., your computer) fails. I use an external hard drive, and I back up to it every other week. There are also online storage options, and if you only need to back up a small amount of data, a USB flash drive or DVDs/CDs can be a simple solution. Here’s an article that explains backup options for the lay person, and here are directions for backing up on either a PC or Mac.
Once you’ve picked your backup plan, the most important thing is to stick to it! Come up with a schedule. I back up my computer on the first and fifteenth of every month. This ensures that I’m never at risk of losing more than two weeks' of data. Put a swoosh on your computer’s desktop to remind yourself — Just Do It!
Now that your computer is squeaky clean on the inside, don’t forget about cleaning the physical hardware too! Blogger Christy Crawford opened my eyes to the germiest places in my classroom — our computer keyboards!
For even more computer spring cleaning tips, education tech guru Kathy Shrock wrote an Instructor magazine article with four must-do solutions.