Tales from a Coding Mentor
I have seen a lot of different types of computer room layouts in my time:
Computer rooms with 30 desktop computers
School libraries with 10-30 laptops
Classrooms with 10 laptops in each room
Rooms with desk space and floor space in front of the project screen
Rooms with and without whiteboards
Rooms where not all desk spaces can get a clear view of the projector screen
Rooms where the computer that connects to the projector is located at the back of the room instead of the front of the room
Rooms where it is not easy for the teacher to move around the room, talk to individual students and view their computer screen.
Of all these computer rooms that I've seen, some have been more functional than others. If you are designing your computer room from scratch, here are my tips on how to make it an optimal learning environment for your students. This is what my ideal computer room layout looks like.
These are the elements of the room which makes it functional for how we deliver our coding classes:
There is floor space in front of the projector screen that allow students to sit away from their computers and in front of the projector screen. This is how we deliver demonstrations to the class and foster discussions. Discussions are a great way to explore new concepts collaboratively. It is often difficult to engage in group discussions if students remain sitting in front of screen which can be distracting.
Another simple room requirement is for the teacher to be able to walk around the room, speak with each child and see their screen.
Teacher’s computer station
Our Coding Mentors lead discussion and demonstrate ideas with visual aids. This means that they need to be standing in front of the class, in the same direction as the projector screen, whilst trying to control the computer. Locating the teacher’s station near the project screen or in a way that allows for the facilitation of discussion is helpful.
My preference is for desktop computers rather than laptops. The less setup and pack up time required for each lesson the better. Setting up is already a bit of a chore with most school computers requiring students to log in to the school system upon turning on the computer and then again to access the internet. For classes that use scratch.mit.edu or trinket.io, students also need to sign into the website. This means that students need to sign in three times: system, internet and website.
If we are operating at a school where we use laptops we need to add to the set up and pack up process. Laptops are often stored in charging stations which are locked up. We need to remove all laptops from the charging station and set up at desks. It is preferable for students to use a computer mouse rather than the trackpad so we need to take these from storage too. At the end of the class we then pack up all the laptops, cables and mouse(s) and make sure that all laptops are charging. In a one hour class, we want to minimise the amount of time wasted.
Computer room not library
Having a computer room that is not the library allows the room to be designed so that it is fit for purpose. It also gives the room priority for coding classes rather than having to share the timetable with library activities.
A school with 20 classes means that a computer room is used by each class for one hour a week. This is a fully booked computer room. This schedule would not be able to be shared with a library. Bigger schools may require multiple computer rooms. This is ok. This is where we need to head to. Imagine running a business or an office where each employee had to share a computer.
One computer per child
You need one computer per child. Sharing a computer does not work. Students can collaborate, but they each need a computer.
A whiteboard is a useful tool for visual aid and breaking down problems. Before we start building a project in Scratch, or Python or whatever tool, we need to write down a plan, draw pictures, geometries, or a flowchart.
Each desk should have a clear view from every computer desk. It should also have sufficient luminescence for the room’s lighting.
It is easy to design a quality, functional computer room that provides the best environment for students to explore, collaborate and create digital solutions and projects. Perhaps you have had a different experience? We would love to hear about it.