How to run a Restart Party at a school

This guest post is written by Jeannie Crowley, who we met at Mozfest. She is the Director of Technology at Ethical Culture Fieldston School in the Bronx, New York. She took the initiative of running the first school Restart Party. 

On April 16, 2015 we ran our first Restart Party. Working with students, we were able to salvage 34 of 36 damaged Chromebooks slated for disposal. To help other schools host their own Restart Parties, I’ve outlined our planning process and things we learned along the way.

Step 1: Choose a partner

Technology is often seen as the “other” at schools; something separate from the core curriculum and learning activities. Rather than hosting our own technology event, we partnered with the high school environmental club to highlight the relationship between technology repair and environmental activities.

Step 2: Choose a venue/event

The environmental club hosted an outdoor Earth Day celebration on April 16. This event was a perfect fit for our Restart Party because it had a built-in audience, a lovely outdoor space (something you don’t often associate with computer repair), and plenty of alternate activities for students to explore while waiting for a spot at our table. The alternate activities were key for crowd management. Participating in a larger event also saved us the effort of promoting our party and recruiting participants.

Step 3: Diagnose and label your devices

Our Chromebooks were suffering from damaged screens, broken hinges, missing keys, and nonresponsive trackpads. We labeled each device with the type of repairs needed and grouped them by issue. This step was necessary for ordering replacement parts, but also helped immensely in facilitating a smooth repair experience on the day of the event (more details about this in step 8).

Step 4: Order replacement parts and tools

Most replacement parts sold online have both the tools and the parts bundled, which adds a lot to the total cost of repairs. We didn’t need a 1:1 ratio of tools to parts, so we ordered enough parts for all of the devices along with five sets each of pry tools and screwdriver kits. With five of each type of tool, we were able to have 10-15 students working concurrently on repairs.

Step 5: Decide what will happen with devices after they’re repaired

Our devices were one step from the recycle bin and had already been replaced with new machines. We decided students could keep the devices they repaired during the Restart Party. Your school might ask students to pay for the replacement parts, or promote the party as a repair event with no promise of devices going home. It’s important to explicitly state what will happen with the devices after the event, because students will ask to take them home and your answer needs to be consistent.

Step 6: Prep your support team

Our school is quite large, with over 1,700 students, and we have four technical support specialist on staff. If your school does not have a dedicated IT staff, you can work with teachers or students to train them in the types of repairs that will be performed on the day of the event. It’s important to emphasize to the support team that they’ll be guiding and jumping in as necessary, but they won’t be doing the repairs for the students. Make sure they know what will happen with the devices after the event and how to share that information with participants.

Step 7: Set up your space

We wanted to have as many students working as possible, and to promote a feeling of equal participation, so we avoided the setup of students on one side and techs on the other. We set up two long tables in the following stations:

  • Screwdrivers and screw collection trays on one end, with a few chairs
  • An open workspace/device pick up station in the middle
  • Pry tools and a few chairs at the other end
  • A testing station off to the side with a power cord
  • One dedicated support person at each end and two floating techs to respond to surges in demand at the stations
  • A floating facilitator
  • Students were only working for 5-10 minutes at each station, so standing did not become an issue. It also allowed students to pack in more tightly and move more freely from station to station.

Step 8: Facilitate and manage crowd flow

Make sure one member of your team is in charge of documenting the party, greeting newcomers, outlining the process, directing them to an open station, notifying support crew when someone is stuck, and moving participants through the stations. With 15-20 participants working at one time, it was very important to have someone in this role, ensuring students didn’t get lost without tools, support or directions. Our entire event lasted 1 hour and we had 34 devices repaired during that time.

Our flow looked like this:

Getting started

  • I greeted students and explained the purpose of the Restart Party and that no prior experience was needed to participate. All students were told they could keep devices they repaired. I assured them the devices were already broken, so they didn’t have to worry about damaging computers while learning to repair the machines; this is safe learning space and failure simply means we’re right we started and we’ll try again with a different device. I told them I’d be the point person for materials and final quality assurance, but they should ask fellow students for support and instructions.
  • The first few sets of students received direct instruction from the techs, but then each student passed their knowledge onto the newest participant to join the bunch. A few students who were experienced in computer repair joined our team spontaneously and began leading smaller groups through the process or replacing screens and keyboards.

The flow and tricky repairs

  • I managed the flow by selecting a device that would fit with the available station and explained to the student that they would start at one end and move through several stations before finishing.
  • Participants held up broken parts (they picked up this tactic from peers) when they were ready for repair parts, and I traded with them.
  • If a student had a particularly tricky repair, or was struggling with a connection, I directed a tech to the student for 1-1 support.

Testing and salvage

  • Once devices were repaired, participants brought the device back to the power station where I plugged it in and tested it. If it needed final touches, I flagged down a tech. If it was ready to go, I snapped a picture of the serial number, passed them a power cord, stuck a Restart Project sticker on the device, and thanked them from saving a device from becoming eWaste. I also let them know they could come to our support crew for help if it wasn’t working as expected when they got home, usually due to a loose connection.
  • At the end of the event, we organized leftover parts for salvage. Many of the broken keyboards had keys that could be used for quick replacements on other devices.

Step 9: Reflect and celebrate

While cleaning up, our staff shared some of our favorite moments and quotes from the participants. We all felt like we were walking on air, having a chance to work side-by-side with students doing something we love and sharing that passion with a group who might not have thought about electronic waste and repair before our event. Some of our favorite moments & quotes:

“I didn’t think that would be so easy. I can’t wait to show a friend.”

“I’m going to go try this with my phone. The screen has been broken forever.”

“I’m not a tech person, but I was able to do it. I was really surprised with myself.” (The best part was his accompanying ear-to-ear grin of accomplishment.)

“I always wanted to open up a computer but didn’t want to risk breaking it. Working on a broken one made me less nervous about messing up.”

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