What’s inside a laptop?

This is the fourth post, in a series of activities, that are designed to impart logic and computer science concepts without the use of expensive technology or one-on-one devices. Check out the first post about the game Robot Turtles, extensions for Robot Turtles and the game of ‘Be the Robot.’
A collection of final projects from some of my summer campers.

A collection of final projects from some of my summer campers.

Inside a Laptop – Make a Paper Laptop

This multi-day project was one of the kids’ favorite activities. I think it impressed the adults too. Everyone seemed to like this activity – both the process and the final product. There was structure, there was learning and there was enough creativity that the kids could ‘make it their own.’
I did this activity with kindergartners, and up through fourth grade. They all loved it, although I think it was too much for the younger kids (K and 1st).

The purpose of this project was to reinforce the idea that computers are made up of parts. We, as people, construct them and we need to tell them what to do (at least at this stage in the game). I don’t want the kids to think that it is just a magic box that works. I want them to understand that there are lots of connected pieces that work together to make a working computer.

With a little bit of guidance, students can craft knowledge about the inside of a computer.

This was a great lesson on drawing attention to where the letters are laid out on the keyboard. The students copied a real keyboard and wrote the letters onto their paper computers.

This activity came about because I needed a computer science project for a church camp, but they had no computers. There were minimal materials available, but I am a hands-on educator. I needed to find a way to engage the students without droning on and on. I don’t lecture (at least not for more than 5 minutes) and almost never for classes that include young children.

After some desperate web searching, I came across a few ‘computer parts’ worksheets and thankfully, this blog post by Creatiful Kids. Since I am a Montessori-educator – and I was trying to discourage the “magic” feel of a computer –  I created my own, realistic-looking materials so that my students could build their own laptop.

I drew my own parts (that looked somewhat realistic) and labeled them. Then made copies for the kids to color (if they wanted to).

I drew my own parts (that looked somewhat realistic) and labeled them. Then made copies for the kids to color (if they wanted to).

Then, I needed a computer to take apart. Thank goodness I had one laying around. It managed to stick around despite during my minimalist-inspired purge of 2014 (as it’s called in our house). Somehow, I didn’t manage to get rid of the old macbook. That laptop was still hanging out in my husband’s office, so I immediately grabbed it, found a YouYube video on how to take it apart and started unscrewing. I attracted the attention of my youngest son and we worked together.

C and I watched a YouTube video on how to take apart my old macbook.

C and I watched a YouTube video on how to take apart my old macbook.

Since it was a very old laptop (from 2005), some of the screws were stripped and just did not come undone. There was some cutting and pulling, but finally we took the top off and figured out where the main parts were.

You can see how old this laptop is...by all of the dust in the components. Yuck!

You can see how old this laptop is…by all of the dust in the components. Yuck!

Now I had a real-life visual to show the kids and they could replicate the “real” laptop by making one out of paper. I asked them not to touch any of these parts because I wasn’t sure what sort of chemicals were coating them after so many years of use. I also removed the battery and placed it in a plastic bag and showed it to them, but didn’t pass it around.

The keyboard is removable and it's fun to watch the kids' expressions when I take it off.

The keyboard is removable and it’s fun to watch the kids’ expressions when I take it off.

Did I expect them to remember the names of the parts? No. Did I expect them to remember them at the end of the project? No. But, my older students did. I was quite impressed.

Use old cereal boxes (or a cardboard box) and fold it in the middle to act as the outside of the laptop. Leave the inside part black since we will refer back to the "inside" of the computer.

Use old cereal boxes (or a cardboard box) and fold it in the middle to act as the outside of the laptop. Leave the inside part blank since we will refer back to the “inside” of the computer.

Be sure and only glue on the screen - that way students can lift up their keyboard and see the inside.

Be sure and only glue on the screen – that way students can lift up their keyboard and see the inside.

Will they remember the names of those parts next summer? No.

I’m not there to reinforce the concepts, but they should remember that a laptop computer is made up of various parts and that they are housed inside the computer. That’s one step closer to taking the magic out of a computer.

I have put both hand-drawn sheets and a lengthy list of instructions on the web site, Teachers Pay Teachers, under the title, “Make a Paper Laptop.”