The Ten Most Common Computer Lab Mistakes
as compiled by Neil MacQueen
and warned about by John Calvin!
Don’t feel bad if you’ve made some or all of these 10 mistakes. I’ve made some too. If you need help, ideas or have comments, send me an email. You can always read my book too. My book will get you off to a good start. You can also read my brief “Getting Started” article for more helps. <>< Neil
Teaching with computers in Christian Education is fun and rewarding. But because it’s a DIFFERENT kind of media that most volunteers and church staff have little experience TEACHING with, it can be done the hard way.
Many have gone before you. Here’s the collective wisdom about mistakes to avoid…
TOP TEN MISTAKES TO AVOID
1. Too many kids, not enough computers.
There are only so many kids you can put in front of a screen before they start to feel like they aren’t close enough and aren’t going to get their turn. The solution is to get the ratio right. This is not like showing a videotape where you can always add one more.
2a. Too many computers, not enough teachers.
You’re wasting time, opportunity, and money if you don’t properly staff your project.
You’ve got 40-50 minutes a week at best in the average Sunday School. Maximize it.
2b. Too many computers for your class size.
Believe it or not, there are churches who get used (or new) equipment by the truckload, or buy their computers thinking “one computer per kid” only to discover later they didn’t need all the equipment, (and that bigger labs require more teachers and bigger software budgets). Then they wonder why no sane teacher will set foot in such a lab -where the computers are lined up all in a row and the kids all have headphones on. Get your numbers right. Sunday School believes in COOPERATIVE learning (sharing computers).
3. Believing this is as easy as turning on the computer, and settling for “happy”.
Some churches are hoping for a quick fix and software that will do their teaching job for them. Good luck! You can’t just turn on software and get the full effect.
Yes, the kids will be happy to plow through your software (and miss half its content doing so). And they’ll look forward to the lab the next time, and the next. “Happy” isn’t our ultimate goal, it’s merely where kids begin with computers. We’re after teacher-student sharing & reflection. That happens AS you go through the software with your kids, -not when you sit back and watch.
4. Mis-judging software before trying it out in the classroom.
You should immediately assume that most children’s software is not built to appeal to you. It’s about how they enjoy it. We test each program with real kids. More than once I’ve been surprised by what my students like or grab onto in a program.
Occasionally someone will return a program because they couldn’t play the game, or don’t think they’re kids will like it. And occasionally at the same time I get an email from ANOTHER teacher saying how much they and/or the kids loved it! Go figure. Just remember: the lab and software isn’t for you, it’s for them.
5. Putting your computers too close together.
When you stack computers too close together, the music, sound effects and narration wash over each other and create cacophony. Headphones are a cop-out, and will cut-out your teacher’s ability to interact with students.
Start with an adequately sized room and place computers about 5 feet apart with dividers between them. If you stick headphones on your kids, it’s because either, a) you aren’t really teaching them anyway; or b) you have nothing to say to them and they couldn’t hear you if you did; or c) you have left for coffee; or d) you need a bigger space but are afraid to ask for it.
Read my article about reducing sound cacophony in a lab. www.sundaysoftware.com/site/sound
6. Not having enough software, and not being able to buy-choose the right software for the lesson.
I continue to hear from well-meaning churches who have blown their budget on great equipment and have little left for great software. A few go out and buy computers and are surprised to learn that we don’t have ONE MEGA PROGRAM that will teach all their stories. Then there are those who are “surprised” that they can’t copy one program to all their computers. Or they imagined their kids out on the internet looking at great Christian sites (good luck finding them). Control the size of your lab and the number of kids coming into it at one time, –and you’ll teach better and be able to afford a better library of software. Rotate different grades into the lab each week, and have a schedule of software use.
FYI: Copying is pirating. Do not teach the Bible with stolen materials.
7. Recruiting “Techies” instead of Teachers.
If they know how to relate to kids and manage a lesson plan, then they are perfect for your project! If they are computer techies who haven’t taught that much, recruit a real teacher to be your lead and do training.
8. Not having a lesson plan and not being prepared.
If you’re not previewing your software, you’re going to waste a lot of time. If you’re not preparing a lesson plan, PLEASE let somebody else teach my kids. Print our free Teaching Tips and Guides for nearly every program.
9. Thinking those seven year old computers are fantastic!
Well, they are fantastic –compared to nothing. But the screaming fact is that you can’t teach with the screen-saver. You teach with the software. And if your computers can’t run MOST of the Christian software available, then there’s a fundamental flaw in your lab concept.
10. Too Many Good Computers (!)
I know it sounds unbelievable, but I regularly encounter churches who get TOO MANY COMPUTERS –good ones too. Then they can’t afford all the software they really need. And the computers crowd the room -which then creates a noise problem. And now your real teachers want nothing to do with the lab.
** Hey, if you have more mistakes you’d like to caution others about, drop me some email.
Copyright Neil MacQueen, Sunday Software. You have my permission to copy this list and staple it to your leaders’ foreheads.