“My computer is broken!”

That’s what I heard today, from a chorus of twenty 6th graders, all eager to show me the Internal Error 500 message that was on their screens.

I was trying to get them all setup with their own accounts on the Flash Card Machine. After registering, the user has to activate their account by clicking a special link in their e-mail. No problem, we’ll just go over to Gaggle.net and check our e-mail so we can activate our accounts and get on with the flash cards. At least that’s the way I had it planned; my lesson book even said so in my ink-written chicken scratch. Unfortunately, the screens had come up with the error code above: 500. A problem with Gaggle’s service had become a problem in my classroom.

On any other day I might have chalked this up to par for the course. However, on this particular Monday morning (which didn’t help anyone’s mood any) this was the “floppy disk that broke the teacher’s back” to turn a phrase. Previously, while planning an online pre-test using the Microsoft Class Server program we have on our laptops, I discovered that none of the Michigan Science Standards for Earth Science were included in the software package, which meant I’d have to create the test by hand. The blogging website I use for my students is undergoing software updates so I couldn’t add the new student I got today, and my grading software kept telling me, for some unknown reason, that my attendance records for the entire year were in danger of being deleted. I wanted nothing more than to join my students in a rousing verse of “my computer is broken.”

While I’m usually prepared for those times when the technology just won’t do what we want it to, I dropped the ball today. Perhaps it was Monday, or the culmination of end of the semester, end of the unit, haven’t quite started on the new unit blues, but one thing I know for certain: my bag of tricks has a hole; one large enough to fit an entire computer through. Having been comfortably teaching in a one to one setting for three years now, I think some of my non-tech teacher tricks for filling unexpected gaps in time have been greatly diminished. Perhaps I’m painting an all too witless and unprepared picture of myself. Not to lead anyone astray, I did manage to quickly switch over to the text-book driven lesson that I had planned later in the day, refocusing the classes’ attention with a whiteboard shout-out (I let the kids write all of their answers on the whiteboard before we judge them as a class), but I still felt awkward for those few moments in which I told the students to reload their browsers, hoping the site would come up, and we could continue using our technological tools.

I wonder how often this happens to other teachers, and if it’s something that tech savvy educators elsewhere easily overcome. Whether I’m at the bottom of the learning curve when it comes to recovering from techie foibles, or working my way toward the middle, one thing any educator using technology should have is a solid backup plan in case the computer takes a nosedive. It definitely helps eliminate the “can’t figure out how to set the VCR clock” feeling that I had today.


  1. Hello Ben,
    I think that this situation happens to the best of us. I teach a high school business technology class where I rely on technology every day as 60% of what my students do revolves around it. Just last night, I discovered several computers where a particular software package just won’t load (SAM 2003), and they went from computer to computer until they found one that would work. I had this huge sinking feeling – what if I don’t have enough that will work!!?? – Fortunately there were enough, and I will be working on fixing the others today, but it did bring to light in my mind how much I do rely on technology these days.

    I don’t always have a back up plan. I should though…that’s something I need to work on as well. Thanks for posting the link about the Flash Card Machine. I’m off to check it out!


  2. Ah Monica, so nice to hear that other tech minded teachers out there have given some though to what to do when the computer stops working. We’ve shifted from text-based instruction to computer and Internet based instruction so quickly that I fear there are more educators out there entering the field not prepared to deal with what happens when the screens go blank.

    Imagine what the thousand of businesses must be thinking that relying on the BlackBerry service that may soon go dead.

  3. I’ve been there. As an elementary technology teacher I had no real classroom and no way to pre-screen the computers. I was at a different school each day so I never knew what I was getting. Not a good feeling. Occasionally I was just out of luck and nothing I planned could be done. If your lesson is technology based and that is part of the point and the internet is down or none of the computers have the correct software you just kind of have to sit there and make up something. I started brining alternate paper activities pretty quickly.

  4. As I prepared for a Professional Development day at our county’s regional educational support center, I came across this scenario again. Just yesterday our network went down and I had to readjust my lessons (which I was much better prepared for this time around). While writing out my lesson plans for the substitute in my absence, I included several paper activities just in case the network decides to take another nose dive today. I don’t want to say that I felt “dirty” for running off copious amounts of worksheets, but I definitely felt as though I can still do more to prepare for “computer outages.”

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