[Beowulf] pseudo-beowulfery

Nathan Moore ntmoore at gmail.com
Wed Feb 9 09:20:21 PST 2011

This isn't quite a beowulf article, but the socio-cultural attitude is
close.  I figure you-all might enjoy it:


LEWISTON, Minn. — At Lewiston-Altura High School students don't just
use the school's computers, they build them. Virtually all of the
Lewiston-Altura school districts 300-plus PCs have been built or
refurbished by ninth-grade students in Joel Ellinghuysen's
"Introduction to Technology" class.
For the past five years, with the close cooperation of district
information technology manager Gene Berg, students have learned to
install memory, swap out hard drives, replace motherboards and hook up
power supplies while saving the district tens of thousands of dollars
in the process.
Ellinghuysen acknowledged it might seem a bit crazy to wheel in 30
working PCs and let a class of 14- and 15-year-olds fiddle around with
their insides in a most intimate manner.
Each year about one-fifth of the districts's PC inventory is either
rebuilt or replaced with the ninth graders' handiwork.
"We took a chance the first time around," Berg said. "By now they've
done over 300."
"Don't call us crazy," Ellinghuysen said, "call us innovative."
Before a student picks up a screwdriver, Ellinghuysen has covered the
basics of what they will find inside the computer case and reviewed
the basic techniques and precautions they will practice in working
with electronic components.
"They're a little scared to be working with $500 t0 $600 worth of
equipment," he said of the students' initial reaction. "They'll ask,
‘You're really going to trust us with that?'"
Support and supervision are key to building confidence and assuring success.
"We're constantly checking for understanding as we go," he said.
Berg said that the neophyte electronic techs are almost always up to the task.
"It's really not that hard once they get over the fear factor of doing
it," he said. "For the most part they just dive in."
Student Jordan Drier said with each step they would "watch and learn"
then repeat what they had seen.
"It was a lot easier than I thought," he said.
Austyn Neldner said he felt he had a much better understanding of how
computers work after rebuilding one himself.
"I'm confident I could do it on my own," he said.
This is where textbook meets tools.
"I believe very much in hands-on learning," Ellinghuysen said. "Where
else could these kids get this opportunity?"
The students actually benefit in more ways than one, both Ellinghuysen
and Berg stress.
This year's class renovated 45 computers for the district elementary
schools, upgrading the memory, motherboard and hard drive as well as
replacing the hard drive mounting bay with one that allows a
technician to change hard drives with a turn of a key - a feature that
allows the computers to be used for online administration of required
state standardized tests. The enterprise-grade parts - much faster and
more durable than those found in the consumer grade machines sold in
retail stores - necessary for the upgrade cost the district about $575
per computer, Berg said. By contrast, an off-the-shelf machine of
comparable capability manufactured by Dell or Hewlett-Packard is
priced at $1,300 - a savings of $34,875 to the school district.
Berg said that by purchasing a case and off-the-shelf components,
students can build a brand new computer for between $550 and $600.
"We get a high performance machine for the price of something you buy
at Wal-Mart," he said.

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