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Editor's Note:
We turned Chris' original question into advice for those with more than two kids per computer in Sunday School. In addition to Chris' question, you can also see her follow-up based on her experience, as well as other people's advice, and a short list of "practical advice" from Neil MacQueen (Sunday Software).
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Chris' Original Question:


We're getting ready to add computers to our Rotation Model Sunday School this fall and I'm wondering about the best technique for grouping kids at the computers and getting them to work cooperatively.


What works for you, and doesn't work?

How well do boy/girl groupings work? Does it matter, or am I overthinking this?

Also, if you've got an odd number, would you suggest having more or less on the odd computer? (say 7 kids, 4 computers: you could have two groups of 2 and 1 computer with 3 kids and leave one computer unused, or put one kid alone on the 4th computer with 3 groups of two)

FYI: Our rotating classes typically have 7 to 11 kids each. We have 4 computers so that means 2 to 3 kids per computer.

Last edited by Neil MacQueen
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Hi
First of all, 3 kids CAN work, if needed, but the leader needs to monitor the group carefully to make sure everyone is included.

As for the rest of it, kids get paired and assigned to groups in school all of the time, and they manage.

We do several things:

1. Let the kids pair up as they please, but tell them ahead of time that if they choose not to work together and cooperate, the adult will then move them. (this is rarely an issue for us)
2. Count off or do a random pairing
3. Assign pairs/groups by birth month.

It is important that part of what we teach is respect for others as well as compassion. Adults need to be on the look-out for the child who does not get "picked". That is another reason to do random pairings. You can then switch part way through the lesson time as well,if that seems appropriate.

As for complaining, why would we allow that? Adults set up the rules, give children the option to choose when that is appropriate, but after that, our role is not to make sure that the children have their own way in everything.

When we set up our expectations, and the children know what to expect, and that they can expect to be treated with fairness and respect, my experience is that the children will follow through with fairness and respect themselves.

Not always of course, but that is because they are children and are still learning! (and doesn't that apply to all of us adults as well?)

I guess the bottom line is that after a time, we know our kids pretty well, and we can respond to what they need in ways that are helpful and appropriate.

Have fun with the computers; I know the children will, and a lot of your worries will resolve themselves because the children will be excited and engaged.
blessings
Jan S
Honestly, the kids are so excited to be going to the computer room that they generally get there and get seated before an adult has time to monitor it. Being "left out" and alone at a computer is rather the goal of most of our kids, but they know that sharing a computer is the way it will be, so I can't say we've had complaints.

I've taught all our workshops at one time or another and I have to say who sits next to whom to giggle in the movie theater, or who gets left off a team in the games rotation is a bigger social issue. I've never seen anything like you described surface in the computer lab.

Peace,
Lisa
I make a point of moving all the computer chairs in a circle the center of the room before class starts. This way we can have some Bible / Review time as well as time to discuss what they will be doing before they become glued to the computer.

This also gives the teacher time to see how the kids pair themselves up, how many kids there are, if someone is new, etc. Then the teacher can dissmiss to the computers however she thinks will work best. I think the suggestions above were great to keep it random. You could also pick the first person to each computer and let the second group 'pick' who they will sit with.

3 or 4 kids at one computer is not a problem if:

  • You have a large monitor so everyone can see.
  • if the computer table is wide enough to accommodate 3 or 4 kids so that they "feel" like they are all at the computer.
  • Have a long cord on your mouse and keyboard so they can be passed to kids on the right and left.
  • Some software works better with just 2 or 3 kids, others with 4 or more.
  • You structure the kids' participation at the computer-- giving them things to do like "you read the scriptures, you use the mouse, you play the game" ...it just depends on the program and what there is to do.
Last edited by Neil MacQueen
Now after teaching in the computer lab for 8 weeks, I realize I was probably over thinking this. I do appreciate the suggestions and will make note of ideas for future use- mostly to get some variety.

So far, I've had the chairs turned away from the computers at the start of class. For the most part, whatever way they happened to sit when they came in is how they've been paired. I've not had a single complaint about how they are paired, and no problems with behavior.

We have three computers at the moment, and have had anywhere from three to twelve kids in the room at a time. We've done four kids to a computer for both the K-1st grade group and the 5-6th grade group. Not ideal, but it did work. Of course it's new, so to some extent they were just happy to be there regardless of the setup. A fourth computer will be coming soon.

I have found that I don't like having just one student at a computer. It happened a couple times (couldn't make myself leave one of the wonderful new computers just sitting there unused) and the students by themselves seemed almost lonely- the others were interacting and discussing what was going on, and the ones alone kept looking over to see what the others were doing.

This answer is for Sunday Schools that have two or more computers in a "lab setting" running the same software for a lesson. Some of its advice also applies to those occasions where the teacher brings in ONE computer.

Working with 2 or 3 Kids at the Computer in Sunday School

Most Sunday School computer labs routinely have 2 or 3 kids PER WORKSTATION. That's not how they are used to using the computer at home or at school, but our Rotation Model and Sunday School Model is based on cooperative learning, which is a good thing because we usually don't have the luxury or resources of having one computer per kid.

The key is to position teachers as "guides by the side" -- sitting next to and near your students and computers. If you or your teachers are standing in the middle of the room while kids are "on the computer," then your teachers are not teaching, they are merely leading.

A number of factors can affect a child's feeling of "being included" or "getting their time at the computer."

A child's own poor "computer habits and expectations" can create problems. They need to be taught not to hog the equipment and interaction with the software. Structure goes a long way to improving cooperative behavior and getting kids to focus and be accountable for learning at the computer rather than simply "playing."

Here are some practical tips for helping kids feel included when they work together at the computer:

1. Size of the monitor. Small monitors make the third kid feel on the outside.

2. Size of the table holding the computer. Small computer furniture tables tend to signal "one user." Wide tables give the third students a sense of "being there." The monitor and the table size send a non-verbal signal to the kids about how they feel included or dis-connected. Amazing, but true: Outside of about 30 inches from the monitor many kids will lose interest.

3. Software selection. Some programs are more suited to two users (like Kid Pix ). Some work well with more (like Awesome Bible Stories or Fall of Jericho).

4. Location of Mouse, Accessibility. If your computer has a mouse on the right side of the computer, then the person on the left or in back is physically unable to get control without playing musical chairs. A trackball can be passed to all students. Big tables can help you give a spot to move the mouse.

5. Control freaks. Some kids are control freaks (like some adults). I usually put my control freaks together in pairs, never with a "less-controlling" kid. I have one young child who comes into my lab and is a constant distraction if he is sitting too far from the mouse. Putting him close enough and reminding him when it will be his turn really helps him settle in.

6. Clear instructions. Working in teams and filling out worksheets as you go through software gives the extra kid something to do when it isn't their turn to control the program. There's a guide to co-op learning with computers in the Teaching Tips section of my website.

7. Every class has a personality. Certain kids create an atmosphere of sharing ...or not sharing. The above "tricks of the trade" may not work with dysfunctional classes. Raise your hand if you've had to send a kid to go see their parents, or talk to the parent after class? ...after you gave the child a chance to change.

8. Is it harder for younger or older children to share?
It really depends on the individual kids, the teacher's style, lesson plan, program used, etc. Older kids seem to be more aware of each other at the computer. Younger kids are just coming out of that classic "parallel play" phase where they view themselves as individuals, -not a small group at play or work. Older kids are more vocal about their needs and thus can exert more peer pressure to share. Younger kids tend not to know when their turn is up. Younger kids may view using the controls as the whole point of learning with the computer, whereas older kids can focus on the content as well as the tool. Are your teachers part of each computer group? ...or are they hovering behind the groups?

9. Establishing good learning habits with the computer can take time. Not all kids will do well with it right away, any more than all our kids can do a skit or art project the first time.

If you've let your kids "play" in the lab too much during unstructured time, this will work against your teachers.

10. The last and most obvious answer is getting another computer or adding a teacher. When you teach with computers, getting the ratios right is important. Often, the key to success is recruiting one more helper, rather than buying one more computer.

And remember, on your worst day in the Bible computer lab, your kids will still want to come back. That rarely happens in any other workshop.

Hope this helps.

<>< Neil MacQueen

Last edited by Neil MacQueen

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