Due to financial reasons - or sometimes lack of space - many primary classrooms have just one computer. This may not seem very much, but it is still a wonderful resource. Here are a few hints on how to set up your classroom to get the best use from that dusty grey box .
The workstation needs to be easy to reach and use, with room for a small group to work together. It should be kept away from chalk, paint, water, magnets and the teacher's coffee, and there should be no trailing leads.
The screen should be shielded from direct sunlight. Software should be checked to make sure it works without problems and it should be possible for the teacher or classroom assistant to supervise its use. When the class is out for PE or games, the workstation could be wheeled to another room where other pupils could make use of it.
Some pupils - especially boys - will try to dominate use of the machine. A rota system can ensure equality of use. "Firm but fair" might be a suitable policy. The more computer-literate children could be appointed as monitors for routine daily tasks, such as starting up and closing down, and could act as "buddies" to help others. To maximise effective computer time, children should plan their work away from the keyboard wherever possible.
It is important to maintain a balance between the need to complete tasks and being fair with time allocation. Where necessary, it may be possible to continue a task during lunchtime or wet play if supervision can be arranged, or for pupils to take work home on a floppy disk , CD or email.
Display a list of computer rules, including instructions about what pupils should do in the event of a technical fault, so that any interruption to the lesson is minimised.
Use of the computer should be based around making the best of the unique properties of the equipment rather than "drill and practice" activities that could be done as easily on paper.
If a small group is using the computer, ensure that they each have a task: a typist, a mouse operator, and one to check for typing errors. These tasks can be rotated at intervals.
Group tasks can include creative writing, design and technology planning, inputting data from maths and science tasks to create graphs, and to researching history, geography, RE and other subjects from the internet and CD-Roms. Groups could also contribute to a class web-page, the school website or a newsletter.
It is important for adults to demonstrate their proficiency with the computer. It can be used for planning, writing letters, creating worksheets, certificates, record sheets, email, class lists and labels.
(The use of ready-made templates can be a significant help with this.) The computer can also be used as a demonstration tool, especially if the screen size can be enlarged with extra equipment, such as whiteboards.
The classroom computer can be left on and loaded with a suitable program, CD-Rom or website to provide reference material during normal lessons.
(This could be a spell checker, dictionary, thesaurus, rhyming dictionary or encyclopaedia.) Children could be free to use it for a brief period as and when they need it.
You may find that you're stuck with a really old machine that's gathering dust and you're wondering what use it can be with such little memory that it won't run modern software or connect to the net. However, even machines such as this may have some uses, such as teaching word-processing and keyboard skills, or creating on-screen messages to act as the class reminders. These could include the day's timetable, a list of special events, a welcome newcomers or an explanation of the aim of the current lesson.
Jim Merrett is an ICT adviser