Using an iBook Cart in the Classroom: Training

2002 – This week’s Mac Lab Report is an annotated outline based on the presentation I did two weeks ago for our school. We have purchased several iBook laptop carts, and my job is to configure the carts for classroom use and train teachers on how to use them. Only teachers who have received the training can check out the carts.

The training was administered in two one-hour sessions after school, paid with staff development funds from our digital high school grant (a California-based technology initiative).

Approximately eight teachers attended this first training and will form the first pilot group who will help us fine tune the configuration of the carts as well as the training content.

This annotated outline is not written in the verbose narrative form you have come to enjoy from past Mac Lab Reports. In general, the words before a colon were what appeared on my PowerPoint slides, and the words after the colon represent what I said about it.

Topics Covered in Day 1

  • Getting the Carts
  • Security Operation
  • Network Assistant
  • Surfing
  • Moving Files
  • Printing
  • Troubleshooting

Day 2 consisted of a more detailed look at the administration of the carts using Network Assistant. I’ll cover that in more detail later.

Getting the Carts

Check-out procedure: Questions your school needs to answer include: Who stores the carts? Where are they kept? Who signs out a cart to you and acknowledges its return? The person in charge of storage should also verify that the cart is plugged in and charging each evening for use the next day. At our school, this will initially be me, but eventually it will have to revert to teaching assistants.

Other points for the person in charge of storage:

  1. Laptops should be counted before and after every checkout.
  2. Make sure the laptops are charging when not in use.
  3. If the carts need configuring prior to checkout (as ours will), write down the procedure for connecting the cart to the school network.
  4. Remove the CD packages and monitor adapters provided with the laptops and store them.

Teacher training includes student training: You need to make a subset checklist of this training to show students how to operate the laptops. Topics include trackpad use, how to open the CD drive (without a screwdriver!), and login procedure.


Keep a clipboard on each cart as a sign out sheet for students: We check out individual iBooks to students based on the district inventory tracking number. Allow time for this. If the lists are dated, you can find out who had machine 123456 on Thursday, in case you’re looking for a missing piece of homework or tracking down an Internet violation.

Key operation on cart: I keep turning the key the wrong way to set the lock; try it with the door open so you can see what happens.

Cart weaknesses: The lock mechanism is made of soft aluminum and can be bent. The back panel is fastened with odd two-holed screws, but these can be removed with needle nosed pliers. Removing the panel gives access to the power supply devices, but it also allows you to remove half the laptops. The entire back panel of the cart is a power supply panel with a switch on the lower left side that is sometimes accidentally turned off.

Logging in: We set up Multiple Users with three logins: techs, teachers, and students. Carefully inspect the student login restrictions to see if anything is overlooked. We recommend disabling control panels, the Chooser, and any nonessential applications, plus CD-ROM access if possible. For example, iTunes is either removed or disabled. The laptops don’t go home, and when in use it’s strictly business.

While in use: Get up and move around the room, and use Network Assistant to monitor student computer use. If you have a good assignment, they’ll be too busy to fool around, but no teacher can keep that up day after day without having some slack time.

Operations: Get Started

Unplugging and turning on: An iBook that has been totally drained of power takes forever to boot. So long a wait until a response is seen makes everyone think the machine is broken. Be patient. Check the battery level by pressing the round white button on the corner of the battery (on the bottom of the laptop).

Logging in: We recommend having registered users listed with passwords. If you have to type the user name exactly, students will never get logged in because many cannot touch-type, which causes uncounted spelling errors.

Teacher password: Don’t use the school’s name, mascot, or the principal’s name. A good strategy is to think of a sentence, then transform that into a mnemonic with a number in it, such as: Low End Mac Helps Your Older Computer: LEMHUOC. That’s not our password, by the way.

Student password: Something simple. It won’t be a secret, after all; it’s just to allow access. We deliberately decided not to leave it blank.

Subject to change: The passwords, if changed, will be recorded in a teacher manual stored in the cart. The tech password is not written in the manual or given to teachers.

Items for… : When using a restricted account, items you have access to are listed as aliases stored in the “Items for…” folder on the desktop.

Operations: Use the Computer

Controlling fine motions with trackpad: Roll your fingertip to get fine control of the cursor. If that doesn’t help, use a lower resolution on the screen.

2nd button functions: For all you two-button maniacs out there, listen carefully: Press the Control key to get the contextual menus often associated with a right-click. (Mac Lab Report Micro-Rant Alert!) Since you can’t type when using the mouse anyway, there is no functional difference between this and using a right-click. But despite the number of pundits who say, “Apple would be perfect if it would ship a two-button mouse,” I disagree: In my opinion a well designed (read: elegant) piece of software should only require a one-button mouse. It’s like the difference between manual and automatic transmissions. Do you like to drive, or are you interested in actually getting somewhere?

How to use the CD eject button: It would be nice if we could disable the CD eject button for school use. We removed the orange sticker that says press F12 to eject disk. IMHO, if you need to but a sticker on the computer to tell people how to do something, that’s counter-intuitive design.

Numeric keypad: You may never need to use the built-in numeric keypad, but if your computer starts typing funny and puts lots of numbers instead of letters, press F6 to turn that off.

Operations: Handy Tips

Check battery level: Press the button on the bottom. Don’t check out with 2 dots or less. Have some power supplies ready to pull out of the cart if necessary. These laptops will not last a full day on batteries alone.

Control resolution/color depth: Use the checkerboard button on the control strip or the Monitors control panel. For some reason (probably age), teachers prefer lower rez than students, who invariably turn it up to 1024 x 768.

Use Sleep between classes, after activity completed: Charge whenever you can.

Shut down after last class of the day: If the cart gets unplugged, all the laptops will eventually drain dead if they are sleeping.

Pulsing light: on the edge means the laptop is asleep.

Network Assistant

This is a topic so involved that I’m saving it for another day.


Internet Explorer and Netscape: Make sure proxies are set.

Printing Web Pages: Don’t. That’s a black hole for ink. Besides, students should be taking notes, not copying whole swatches of text.

Moving Files: This is related to Network Assistant, so I’m saving that for another day.


TAs (teaching assistants) will set up so printing works: A very wise person once told me, “Don’t try to teach everything you know. Try to teach everything your students need.” Teachers want to teach, not fight with printer configuration. So like most of the other functions described here, we’ll set it up, and you can use it. However (Micro-Rant #2) it would be nice if the printers we got with the carts could be addressed over IP addresses instead of AppleTalk, since AppleTalk is disabled in my classroom. We’re using an Epson with an optional ethernet card, but it only prints over IP for PC computers. AppleTalk only for Macs.

Make sure they do a test print before they leave: When the TAs deliver the cart, make them print something before leaving.

Call if problems: A list of names and numbers and class periods should be included for people to refer to when problems arise.


Power supplies/battery level: Already discussed, but it bears repeating: The laptops won’t last all day. Keep power supplies removable and handy.

How to steal an AirPort card and RAM: So you know what it looks like when a student does it. Turn the screw between F5 and F6 to fix a mushy flexy keyboard and lock the keyboard down. For the rest, refer to the iBook manual; I don’t want to detail the procedure here to make it just a little harder for students who may be reading this.

Resolving low memory problems on some applications: If you get a Type 1 error, try (logging in as a tech) selecting the application icon, choosing Get Info, and increasing the numbers you find. One vote for switching to Mac OS X, which doesn’t require this.

Don’t let batteries die; takes a long time to start: Earth to Apple: “fix this.”

TA will set up hub/teacher machine: But we’re willing to show anyone who wants to know more anything we know.

Unplug Base Station when not in use: So Joe Public can’t connect to your network after hours from the street behind the school. See my previous laptop article for information about security on a wireless school network.

Training (for Students)

Here’s a short list of things to review with your students when first using the carts. Take about 15 minutes to go over the following items.

Logging in: Reveal the password and remind them not to abuse the machines.

Eject key: Don’t.

Trackpad control: Roll your finger.

Checking battery: Lights on the bottom.

Copy, Paste, Cut: no fkeys for this; teach keyboard shortcuts (Cmd-C, Cmd-V, and Cmd-X respectively).

Apple key: Windows users will be temporarily blinded by this key.

Make sure AirPort is connected: Look at control strip lights or AirPort control panel; if they’re both disabled, is there another way to check? I don’t want to unlock control panel access. The best solution is to restrict the functions on the control strip.

Invoking sleep and shut down: Press the power button please.

Switching between applications: Where the application menu is (no START menu)

Force Quit: The three-finger salute Option-Cmd-Esc. Interestingly, this always forces Internet Explorer to freeze the computer. (Micro-Rant) Probably on purpose.

Warm restart: Control-Cmd-Power – when nothing responds for over a minute, try this. You will lose your work. You will. It’s a fact.

Screen grab: Shift-Cmd-Control-4 and then draw a box: The results are placed in the clipboard.

Saving: Don’t save files over the network. Save files locally, and then move them. Nothing is more tragic than attempting to save your work and having the computer freeze.

When an app has no open windows: Use New from the File menu; most Windozers think the program isn’t running.

Connecting to File Transfer Server: A topic for another day.

Internet training: A whole other issue. I’ll say this though (Micro-Rant #3, this one’s really important, don’t skip it) Students don’t want the Internet so they can do research. They want the Internet so they can do plagiarism. This is an important point.

The whole point of research is to support a new idea, not find someone else’s idea and calling it your own. Students should be creating content with computers, not merely finding it. There’s an op-ed piece lurking around here that I need to write.

Stay tuned.

Keywords: #ibookcart #teachertraining #studenttraining #classroomtraining

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