“Screens Down” and other Tales of Managing Technology in the Modern Classroom

“Screens down” is probably the first intentional strategy that I learned for managing the use of laptops in my class. I have been teaching in a 1:1 school for the last ten years, and I was part of a small group of teachers who piloted this programme before its full implementation. As part of the pilot programme, we visited a couple of schools that already had 1:1 programmes in place. The goal was to see first hand how teachers there were integrating technology in different subjects and to look for management strategies. “Screens down” was a command widely used to redirect focus from the laptop to the teacher in the different lessons that we had the chance to observe.

When we debriefed our visit and observations, we focused on various behaviours and challenges that we noticed in our visit. Our task was to come up with a basic set of guidelines to support our teachers as the 1:1 programme was introduced to the school. Back then, a very small percentage of the Secondary teachers (the target of the programme was only Secondary at that time) had experience with 1:1 programmes and there was some skepticism around the benefits of requiring every student to have their own laptop. Furthermore, many teachers had voiced their concerns about how laptops would be a big, unnecessary distraction. Due to this, we focused on a list of commands that were paired with student expectations about where to direct their attention.

Below is the set of commands-expectations that the pilot group came up with.

  • Screens down – focus on the speaker, not the laptop. Used when the transitions between laptop-speaker-laptop are long.
  • Screens at half-mast – focus on the speaker, not the laptop. Used when the transitions between laptop-speaker-laptop are quick.
  • Airport off – Disconnect from the wi-fi network. Used when the work done on the computer doesn’t require the use of the internet.

I have learned so much about integrating technology in the classroom since that list came about, yet a couple of things remain the same. Commands such as “screens down” and “screens at half-mast” are still present and probably used in almost every one of my classes, not exclusively by me, but also when students are addressing the whole group. The expectations that those commands entail are clear to all the students, so it has been effective as a means to establishing a common ground for students and teachers with regard to where their attention should be at any given time when computers are in use.

Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

Airport off is one command that slowly disappeared from our lingo. When the 1:1 programme was introduced, as I mentioned earlier, there was an assumption that the students were going to be terribly distracted and the internet was going to be the main culprit. In line with that, there was an unspoken expectation to limit in a way how much the students used the internet. It sounds crazy, right? It was a passive way of addressing the elephant in the room. Yes, students do get distracted and their learning can be impacted if they can not self-regulate their use of technology in and outside class time. However, instead of limiting their access, we started to focus on empowering the students with skills and strategies so they can make better decisions when it comes to using technology. For instance, students have had the opportunity in various subjects to practice the Pomodoro Technique or use some of apps and Chrome extensions that help them focus and also remind them to have their own “brain breaks”. I am glad that our school didn’t go down the path of installing remote desktop apps that allow teachers to monitor live the screens of students and remotely lock those that are not on-task, as one of the schools we visited had.

In a previous post, I talked about the different models of technology integration and how purpose and pedagogy come before technology tools. Likewise, technology has allowed for innovative teaching and for the redefinition of learning experiences. In that sense, students are often working through their inquiries using different technology tools or none at all, so the rules of how those are used in these contexts need to be agreed by the teacher and the students.

As technology evolves, the management of those tools in the classroom will have to develop too in order to make sure that their use maximizes the students’ learning experiences and does not hinder them.


Featured image by giovannacco on Pixabay.

5 thoughts on ““Screens Down” and other Tales of Managing Technology in the Modern Classroom

  1. Oh and that Airport off would pretty much disable anything that I wanted kids to do on their laptops! I did not know about the Pomodoro technique, what a great idea! Do you students know this? I love the low tech approach to managing time on a tech task and the satisfaction of checking things off a list and getting a break is so simple and awesome. I have a bunch of students in my class who could really take off with this approach. Thanks for sharing!


    1. I have used the Pomodoro technique with some of my students with various degrees of success, but generally speaking, it has been effective in helping the students sustain their focus on a task. We love this timer: https://www.marinaratimer.com/MjymU6 We have also adapted the “focus” time according to the age of the students. When I used it with my Grade 6 students, we started with 10 minutes of focus time. Even that was a stretch for some. The idea is to slowly stretch that time.


      1. I had all of the 9th graders add Marinara Timer to their browser this year as part of a “Welcome to high school” session that I ran with them and they seem to really enjoy it! I usually frame the conversation by asking, “would you rather do well in school and take breaks while studying or never have breaks and potentially see the quality of your work suffer?” It’s a pretty easy sell after that!
        I also agree that “screens down” was one of the first techniques that I used with students at a 1:1 school and it’s still my most often recommended to teachers who are having a hard time managing screens. I think that a lot of teachers worry that they will be interrupting good work if they ask students to put their screens down so I encourage them to give kids notice (“2 minutes until screens down”) so that they all have a chance to find a good stopping point.


  2. Having 1:1 laptops are great but having simple commands like “screens down” and “screens half mast” are simple commands that we all can use, and are easily understandable. We all need to come up with our own management techniques but having a few simple ones is simple and effective. Something as simple the marinaratimer.com is something I would like to use in my class as a reminder to give the students brain breaks. Thank you for introducing me to it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s