A Computer lab as a regular classroom?

A Computer lab as a regular classroom? I don’t think so.

When we first started this school year, again I was generously given seven classes in four different classrooms, each room more tantalizing than the next.  There was Room 222 (is it bigger than a bread box?), 416 (which I had last year, only slightly larger than 222), 406 (the art room the size of a supply closet), and the coup de grace, the cafeteria. I was given the entire seventh grade, the entire tenth grade, with a few extra students from other grades mixed in for texture.  Fine. I like a challenge as much as the next guy. Last year, I tackled this situation with the mobile classroom, an overhead cart modified for my music curriculum containing such amenities as an electronic keyboard, a CD/Cassette player, a file folder (for handouts and exams), a heavy duty three hole puncher, a stapler, tape dispenser, clipboard, supplies and a shelf for overheads, reports, assignments, textbooks, reference materials and journals.

This year, some things had changed. I was designated the technology coordinator for the building, which added some extra responsibilities and provided some new information and resources.  Also, I only had music classes in my new schedule, as opposed to the four advanced computer electives I taught the previous year, so prep was different.  And most importantly, without those computer classes in the schedule, the computer lab was available at any time during the day.  And so, a plan hatched in my head; use the lab for some music lessons that would involve technology.

Not wanting to switch to the lab completely, I began to think about how to best use the different environments I was teaching in.  Each room had different issues.  406 is its own monster, but a domesticated one, I think.  We now have a white board and a CD/cassette player, which cuts down on set up time, as well as an overhead projector.  The four old PowerMacs were replaced by brand new Dells with full internet access.  The computers proved invaluable for my four Music classes with the tenth graders. 416 is cramped, coupled with the sardine can level class size (35), but at least the AC was repaired, so I didn’t have to yell over it.  The biggest challenge was the cafeteria, with its wide open spaces, lunchroom tables and bad acoustics. I did have a white board ( and eventually two).  Next time, I’ll use a mike when addressing the class as a whole, but I’m also considering a micro-managing strategy, that involves breaking the classes into groups, and approaching each group separately to address different issues, after assigning a “Do Now” at the beginning of the period with a centralizing theme. This is not my best skill, so I am eager to see how I am able to develop this strategy for next year.

Amidst all of this, I was at an advantage:

  1. I had my trusty mobile classroom, broken in and ready for action.
  2. I had total access to a computer lab, and that took the pressure off of being trapped in those classrooms all the time.
  3. During the Summer Institute last year, I built a web site to supplement the class equipped with my policies, standards and curriculum.
  4. Excluding the cafeteria, we had an infusion of PCs in every classroom in the building. In theory, that meant that internet access, and powerful computers are at the fingertips of students. In many of the rooms, this was not the case, though during the year. technicians were diligently working on getting each room up an running.

After negotiating with the Principal and Assistant Principals, I was able to plan a few trips to the computer lab early in the school year for specific lessons, then transfer  my seventh graders (Cafeteria, 416, 222) into the lab permanently for the third marking period.  The tenth graders stayed put in the Art Room, which also has four new PCs and a printer, with occasional jaunts into the lab as needed.

Now for me, technology is not only computers, even though that’s a big part of it.  I was able to make some other technological implementations this year:

  1. Keeping a binder for each class every marking period for reports and assignments.
  2. Requesting that the students make a copy of their work before turning it in. Sometimes this meant handwritten, or a xerox, or a backup on disc.
  3. Using transparencies for class notes, do nows and assignments as often as possible. Next year, I plan to be better at this.
  4. Using an index card system for low stakes writing, surveys, databank and flash card information for trivia activities and review.
  5. A database for my attendance, grades and information (the piece that I’m the most proud of this year; I have always hated Delaney cards and record log books.  This was a big step for me.  Thank you Bill Gates for hiring someone to develop MS Access.

One particular area where technology was implemented in my curriculum was in assignments.  I have to donate much of my writing to this because I received the most motivation from students through these assignments than anything else I did.  I thought the web page would be the big seller, but their reflections indicated they were most engaged by the assignments.  I’ll write about the most popular assignments…

      1. FIVE TRACK PUFFY – a technology integrating piece for the ages.  I adapted an idea from Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, Paradox Press)  called the FIVE CARD NANCY, where five Nancy comic strip panels are chosen completely at random to make a new strip.  The theory is, no matter what, the strip will still make sense.  I took that principle and applied it to sound recording.  The assignment is this: Take five recording excerpts, between five and thirty seconds in length, and put them together in some meaningful order, by artist, title or theme. Focus on a particular word or spell out a phrase.  This summer, I will have some student examples available online.  The students were rather excited about this project on a number of levels.  One, it did not involve writing, leaving students to pursue other strengths.  Two, it was a hands-on, interactive assignment.  Three, it is an open-ended assignment, with lots of freedom.  When I demoed the Five Track Puffy for the students, I used the school equipment, manually pressing Record and Play and Pause when necessary.  Students went home and found a variety of ways to do the assignment.  Students used radio, TV, recordings and downloadable media from the internet for their resources, and cassettes, CDs and Minidiscs for their recording format.  The overall results were quite impressive.  There were a few problems. One, many students disregarded the suggested length, which was between thirty seconds and three minutes. I suggested a time limit so that the examples could be played in class.  A longer final product had a tendency to sound like a MIXTAPE rather than an excerpt.  Also, students sometimes forgot to choose a theme, leaving their Puffys sounding random and unfocused.  There was an issue with appropriate language, when some fans of HipHop and Hardcore Rock presented their examples; that was addressed with the idea of editing in mind. But I would definitely do this assignment again, since I believe it helps students to understand music a little better by working the ear. It also provides students an opportunity to share their tastes and cultures with others.
      2. SLIDE SHOW PRESENTATIONS using MS Powerpoint – aside from its uses in the business world, Powerpoint remains in the forefront of multimedia educational tools, far superior and easy to use than Clarisworks and Hyperstudio, and more widely accepted than Corel Presentations.  I ran a lesson instructing the Seventh graders on Powerpoint, focusing on one particular artist or a song that they admired.  My model, created last year for the Advanced Computer Elective, featured Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.  Students were given about three weeks to prepare their sideshow.  About 90% of the students completed sideshows on time; about 75% worked in groups of 2 or more.  Among the more memorable sideshows were the Beatles “Elenor Rigby”, Pink’s “Don’t Let Me Get Me”,  and Julie Andrew’s “The Sound of Music”.  Again, this was an assignment that engaged students on a number of levels.  One, the students were on the computers, involved in a constructive activity.  It was hands-on learning.  The students were working in groups, even when designing a solo sideshow. The multimedia presentation allowed students to exercise multiple intelligences, such as musical, intrapersonal, interpersonal, technical, visual and writing.  Again, there were problems: physical issues such as a limited amount of computers1, system crashes, and a temperamental Video projector, that got really hot while in use. These sideshows also included audio, but the computers couldn’t handle running the audio and the slideshow simultaneously, so I used my mobile classroom. This provided much more volume than the paltry monitor speakers. Unfortunately, the final presentations conflicted with  the ninja-level quietness recommended for the AP Biology Regents, located next door.  I’ll have to schedule this lesson at a different time of year next go around, methinks…  Most presentations were about five minutes in length, with about fifteen to twenty presentations.  Combine that with classroom management issues in the dark (slide shows are best with the lights off) and we’re talking about two weeks minimum. I’m certain many administrators would not approve. And of course, the great spear in the side, subject matter.  We may not be able to control student’s tastes, but I did suggest to them to keep the streets on the streets, and not drag some of the “grimy” artists into the lab.  Some do sneak in…
      3. COPYRIGHT FORMS – while not technically a “technology based initiative,” this assignment did contain some clever variables.  I purposefully used older forms when introducing the assignment to the students, and then informed them that up-to-date forms where available on the Internet. I hinted that the newer form might be worth more points, so on the grapevine, many students felt they had to use the new forms, although I accepted the older forms for full credit as long as they were completed properly. I do realize that not everybody has access to a computer. Besides,  the downloadable forms are in .pdf format, and I was not able to successfully download Adobe Acrobat onto the lab computers until February or March. This assignment I developed during the spring of 2000; so now I have about 200 good examples of what a copyright should look like.  The values of a lesson like this are practical: students get to work with and learn how to fill out actual government forms. They develop investigative skills, provided they decide to search for the “proper forms”, which I encourage. The copyright form is an essential component in the understanding of the Music Business, focusing on the concept of intellectual property, an idea I think all students and Randy Jones should develop.


    1. ABOUT THE LAB – Gateway has two computer labs; both standard PC with 35 workstations equipped with Win95/98 and Internet access through a T1 line, all run through a school network.  The older lab in Room 411, is dire need of service.  Vandalism and mismanagement have led to its current state of disrepair, and rendered the lab virtually non-functional.  The younger lab, Room 418, is in much better shape. We used this lab for the Writing Project Inquiry Into Technology course, and I spent quite a few hours in this lab nurturing and monitoring it. For most of the year, I limited the workstation usage to about 19 machines, in order to lighten the workload in maintenance. In a class of 36 students, I could assign 2 students per computer, reserving a computer for a teacher. No fights about computer use; students had to work in dyads in order to remain on task. I have devoted a small section of the lab to a music library (I’ll get a bookcase next year), and a media center, with a stereo component system, plus TV/VCR/DVD unit.  My plans is to get a ceiling mounted overhead projector I can connect to the all of the A/V equipment, and some small surround sound speakers to create a cinema quality viewing room.  For educational purposes, of course.  The computer lab and media library will enable students to research a variety of audio and visual materials, utilize the internet for its myriad of purposes, and improve the quality of education at my school, at least theoretically.


Antonio Jacobs