Scaffolding for Student Netbook Use

There are some immediate structures which you can put into place to support a successful netbook classroom environment. URL Support

When it comes to teaching older students who were typing in website addresses, I have tried many different strategies. The biggest challenge I met with was that students make multiple spelling mistakes when they typed in a website address (URL). One solution that I developed was to have a teacher's website that had the most commonly used websites as links so that all students had to do was to get to the teacher's website and then click on the website that they needed. While this solved the initial challenge of students not typing the correct URL, this method however, does not teach the older students how to type in website addresses correctly nor do the students learn to memorize these addresses. The same goes for having bookmarked websites.

The best solution that I have found is to make a poster that has all of my most commonly used website addresses on it. In my classroom, I have a poster displayed that has the website addresses for my website, their e-mail address, subscription websites like, etc. By having a few posters displayed around the room, students will learn that they have to type in the website addresses correctly and after a few weeks they won't even be looking at the poster anymore, which means that they have memorized the website addresses.  When students have websites memorized, they can easily sit down at any computer anywhere in the world and get to where they need or want to go. Contrast that with a student who has been checking his or her e-mail at school for three years by way of a link or bookmark and is at a loss when confronted with a non-school computer.

Identifying Classroom "Dead Zones"

It is helpful for the teacher to use a Wi-Fi sniffer when setting up a wireless netbook classroom. A Wi-Fi sniffer is a small handheld device that will tell you the signal strength of the wireless network in your classroom at specific locations. There will always be a few dead zones where the wireless strength is too weak to maintain a consistent Internet connection. There sometimes is no rhyme nor reason why these dead zones exist but noting where they are will make desks rearrangement much more important. When I initially plan my classroom desk settings, I place masking tape on the floor around the dead zones so that I can make sure that each netbook will be able to connect when students are working. Please note that while most dead zones are stationary, there are a few dead zones that can move around.

Student Troubleshooting

A troubleshooting poster can be a real time saver in a netbook classroom. On this poster you identify the most common troubles that you are having with netbooks in your classroom. My troubleshooting poster covered everything from netbooks that froze, to log-in problems, to what to do if your netbook screen goes dark, etc.

Returning to the challenge of “wandering” dead zones, in one classroom I found that there were three dead zones when it came to the Wi-Fi in the classroom. However, one of these dead zones continually moved around. When a student with a netbook would experience a dead zone, their netbook would drop their Wi-Fi connection. Through trial and error, I found that if the student forced this netbook model to “sleep” and then “woke it up” again, it would reconnect to the Wi-Fi in a new location. I included those types of instructions and hints on my troubleshooting poster and I never had to walk students through those step-by-step instructions every time. Initially, when a student lost connection with the internet, they would panic but by using the troubleshooting poster for support, they were able to locate their problem, follow the steps and find the solution on their own instead of using teacher assistance. The posters scaffolded students through their own troubleshooting solutions saving me valuable time.