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Refurbishing office computers for schools and the community

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Computers under construction at Kawerau College (August 2004)

Finding out what's under the lid and how it works: students at Kawerau College working on old Compaq computers.

Tossing computer nerds and behavioural students together in a classroom sounds like a dubious recipe for success, but at Kawerau College it's gone down a treat. In a programme new to New Zealand schools, these students are learning about computers by pulling them apart, putting them back together again, installing software, and putting them on a network.

The programme kicked off this year when Alastair Davis, the college's logistics manager, received a donation of 40 old 486 Compaq and Digital computers from The Ark, an Auckland recycling company.

Says Davis: "At the beginning of the first term, I stood up in front of the year 10 kids and asked if any were interested in pulling computers to bits and then building them up to see what makes them tick. I got 18 students and more have joined since then. Some had been encouraged to select a new option class because of bad behaviour, but we've not had an ounce of trouble out of them.

"A couple of the students are in the class because they are basically computer geeks, while some were the school's more difficult students. It's an interesting combination, but they are all enjoying themselves, for their own reasons. One attraction is that it is more hands-on than written bookwork.

"I think it's in every kid's nature to pull things apart, but most people tell them not to. Here they can do it in a very controlled and safe environment."

Davis did want to weed out students who were just there to "muck around".

"We discovered who was really motivated in the first part of the course, when we started them off with systems trainer boards, which use logic gates and so on, in projects for solving simple problems."

"Then we started pulling the real computers to bits to learn about the hardware – what does each part do, how does it fit together, and so on."

Currently the students are loading up operating systems, drivers and software, and in the process, learning general principles and history of software.

Later this year the students will put their completed computers in a network. They'll learn about the history of networking and what networks are available today. They'll see how a server is constructed, prepare cables and physically build the network. There's a carrot: they'll be allowed to play games on the network, as well as communicate among themselves.

At that stage, the computers would even be capable of joining the school's classroom network which hosts a mix of new computers and recycled machines, including CANZ machines from The Ark.

Davis is delighted with the way the programme has gone and says most participants are already talking about a career in ICT. Their enthusiasm is echoed at parent-teacher interviews. "Some parents tell us the only reason why their children are going to school is to do this course. Some of them are even pulling their home computers apart, and they're itching to do the same with my laptop to see how small everything is in it."

The school is now considering the makeup of a follow-on class for 2005. It would still be a practical course. "They could still pull things to bits, but they could start to learn some of the more intricate details – the more specialist stuff."

Phone: 07-323 8143


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