Build Computers in School!

How many kids still know how to build his own computer these days? Back in the old days, we build our own computers. We upgrade it and tweak it trying to make it run just a little bit faster. I wonder how may kids have ever seen how does a computer look inside the case.

09.09.09 by John C. Dvorak
Want to save some money and give kids a better understanding of computers? Have them build their own.
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Why don’t schools build their own computers from components? Why is there this incessant need to buy new machines? Here’s an idea: parts from old machines can be salvaged and new machines can be built inexpensively at the school by the students.

Make it a yearly project for various classes, giving students some understanding of the components and how they work together.

The first computer I had was a hand-built SOL-20. I recall when the first IBM PC came out there was a computer club that quickly reserved a meeting hall. Twenty of us met and put together an IBM PC with extra hot components picked from a laundry list of items. All the drivers and necessary software was added in a group setting with someone leading the way who had already gone through the process and knew all the obstacles and solutions. It was an educational experience. I have always thought that people should open the cases of their machines once in a while and add some components. Change the hard disk or add another DVD burner—anything. Just get in there.

The opportunity to build computers in today’s classrooms has all sorts of angles and benefits. Let’s say the kids put together a simple ATOM-based machine using inexpensive Intel motherboards. They can salvage hard disks from last year’s machines or buy a new hard disk, add memory, and drop it in a salvaged case or get a new case. However it is done, it should be cheaper than loading up the school with new machines from China.

If they really wanted to do it right, high schools could have the metal shop students (if there even is a metal shop anymore) make the cases for the machines.

When I was a kid our high schools all had an auto shop, wood shop, and metal shop for students on an industrial arts track. I’m not sure what has happened to school auto shops around the country—cars are nowadays specifically engineered not to be worked on. I get the impression that most schools no longer have industrial arts shops.

And what is seriously missing from today’s picture is the electronics or computer shop in the high school. Times have changed, and there is no reason that there is not a facility to build computers in school. Everyone could pass through this classroom to build machines of their own. Is any school doing this? And if not, why not?

One problem may be finding the necessary teachers to actually run these sorts of classes. However, we’re almost 35 years into the desktop computer revolution; computer-illiterate teachers really have no excuse anymore. What does it take to get with it?

And there is no reason that the hand-made machines cannot pass through the art classes and be rigorously decorated as items of art. Give the PCs custom designs in the metal shop and custom paint jobs in the art lab.

I know there is a bean-counter out there who can show that buying machines in bulk is cheaper than building machines. But factor in the recycled components, cases, and power supplies that students could use, and the equation changes somewhat. And what do schools generally do with their discarded machines? They pile them up and then junk them with one of the recycling companies that ships the things off to China, where they are disposed of in unhealthy ways. If any institution should be promoting responsible recycling, it should be our schools.

I’d like to hear from any schools which have a program like this. We can use it as an example for others to follow.

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