Bits 'n PCs
One of the ways to take the mystique out of computers and what goes on inside is to have an interactive, hands-on lesson using hardware. Along the way I have gathered quite a treasure chest of computer bits 'n PCs. It is easy enough to scavenge these cast-offs when parts are being replaced just ask for the old ones! Some guts I have gathered include: RAM, motherboards, power packs, cables, hard dives, floppy disk drives, sound cards, video cards, modems, old mice and a few 286 computers.
I teach computers to a variety of students seniors, adults upgrading their skills, ESL and literacy and all have fun with the lesson and lose their initial fear. I usually do this lesson the first or second class, but it is never too late to show and tell. The objective of the lesson is to have the students learn the proper computer terminology. A secondary, though unstated outcome, is that they will have fun and lose their fear or hesitancy when it comes to handling the computer.
I use my handout Computer Icebreaker as a basis for discussing terminology. The handout has information on both software and hardware in a clear language format with lots of graphics. I show the students each piece of hardware I have gathered and talk about its purpose. For example, a floppy disk drive allows you to store and retrieve documents from a floppy disk. And at this point take apart a floppy disk to see whats inside and why it is floppy. As the pieces are passed around the class, I think the most exciting thing is for them to see the mysterious workings of these components: the inside of the hard drive for example, the circuits on the different boards, or the mystifying RAM.
Next, in small groups of four or five students, they snap RAM, sound cards and cables into the insides of the old dead 286s (my apologies to any programs who are still using them). Getting their hands inside a computer is an awesome experience. With these old computers, it is not critical that the students get them up and running; they just need the experience of looking at the insides and snapping in some components. I leave the computer parts around the classroom for the next week and students do revisit them and get into some lively discussions with their classmates!
The next lesson involves plugging together computer components. I disconnect four or five of our working computers; i.e., disconnect the power cord, the monitor, keyboard, mouse and network connection. I demonstrate how all the pieces fit back together it is hard to put a square connection into a round port! Each group of students works at reconnecting their computer. Of course, the measure of success is that the computer boots up and the students can log on. If it doesnt happen all is not lost. Class teamwork and problem-solving skills will come to the forefront as they try to solve the problem.
One of the benefits of these two lessons is the students increased knowledge, self-esteem and self-confidence. An even greater benefit is that when things go wrong, and they will, the students will automatically check all the connections and cables before calling for help! I know some of you are thinking that you could never teach such a lesson because you yourself do not understand the computer components. But you can just learn along with the students. I started out knowing a great deal about software applications and very little about the hardware. I searched the 'Net, read CONNECT, borrowed books, picked the brains of my colleagues, anything to acquire a basic understanding and knowledge. The other thing I realized is that I did not have to be the expert; learn as you go and grow! Most of all have fun computers are not all that mysterious!
If you would like a copy of my handout, Computer Icebreaker, e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Stephanie Brennan works in the Adult Learning
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