Ask Otto / internet

Dear Otto: How Do You Keep Students From Playing with Settings?

tech questions

Do you have a tech question?

Dear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please complete the form below and I’ll answer it here. For your privacy, I use only first names.

Here’s a great question I got from Jamie:

I love your site I have purchased three of your Technology series. I noticed [in the K-6 textbooks] you talk about using protopage – how do you let your students use it  without them doing anything to what is on the page. 

A: I love my protopage internet start page. I don’t mind if my students (I teach K-8) edit the page (within reason). I was worried at first so I put blocks there specifically for comments, wall writing, doodling. I tried Wall Wisher, which didn’t work well. I added a hamster and a pet dog that students can play with, feed, virtually cuddle. In some of the widgets (such as the calculator), the skins can be changed. That’s fine. I like that students personalize their stations even though the next class in 45 minutes might make changes. If they take ownership of the computer, they’ll take better care of it and enjoy the class more. I used to let them add wallpapers until the IT department locked us out.

That said, to do any serious formatting requires a log in as Admin (like to add widgets or change the colors). That’s reserved for me. Also, I don’t give students much time to play. We’re busy. They have to come in during recess or lunch to have a block of time. I have more problems with them futzing with the icons on the desktop and turning the screen on its side than fooling around with the start page. Techie kids are a precocious bunch!

My suggestion if you’re thinking of using Protopage: Don’t worry about formatting. It’ll likely work out fine.


Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and author of two technology training books for middle school. She wrote Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller for her agent that should be out this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office, WordDreams, or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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4 thoughts on “Dear Otto: How Do You Keep Students From Playing with Settings?

  1. Like you said, the time requirement works well. My line goes something like this, “I’m happy to excuse you for recess when you’ve shown me…”

    We ask students to take off Google widgets (the fish tanks and such) because they use a lot of bandwidth. Also, the Responsible Use Agreement they sign says that they use their computers for business only. The occasional reminder works well.

    I wrote a post on keeping students engaged: http://expateducator.com/2012/01/30/keeping-students-engaged-in-a-11-project-based-classroom/ – hope you don’t mind me sharing.

    • Good thoughts, Janet. I like the first paragraph. I’ll be trying that. Please, always feel free to share relevant posts. 1:1 classrooms are an interesting issue. I love reading how it’s going for teachers.

      Thanks for dropping by

  2. I love the idea of adding pets for virtual cuddling! How cute :)

    Your comment about kids personalizing their station & enjoying class more must be so true – I suspect that anything that allows kids the personal touch in school is a magnet for them. It’s hard to feel individual at school when you’re one of very many, so I imagine any opportunity like this is golden.

    • Computers allow that where (as you say) much else about school is formalized. I love seeing them arrange the icons in the letter of their name and dump the screen on its side–as long as it doesn’t become the lesson. Kids can multi-task so I ask that they do those extras on their own time.

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