Restart @school session 3: Safety and taking electronics apart

In our third session with Archer Academy students, we finally got hands-on with gadgets. But not before we took a couple moments to talk about safety.

One thing we love about young people is they are not weighed down by anxiety and vague fear, like adults. We asked if anybody felt anxious about taking apart electronics, and *crickets*. Which made our discussion about safety all the more necessary!

We talked first about the greatest hazard in dealing with gadgets: electric shock. We used this “don’t try this at home!” Electroboom video to explain that, for our purposes, we can focus on voltage. And that we can classify devices by the voltage they require.

In our work in schools, we opt to learn on battery-powered devices only because they operate at a lower voltage. No mains devices, or power supplies. But there are a couple of very important risks to keep in mind when disassembling and tinkering with battery-powered devices: lithium batteries, smashed glass, and capacitors.

Getting hands-on

After quizzing them on safety, we allowed students to choose between five devices for careful disassembly: a digicam, a hard-drive, a hair-dryer (there as an exception), an impact driver, and an ancient netbook. (We explained all were end of life but there were still pleas to repair them – we loved this!)

Our instructions were to disassemble the devices into functional components if possible – in other words, not to tear them to shreds, but to undertake a thoughtful disassembly. (We explained that we would investigate the value – financial and otherwise – of the parts inside, as well as look into “mining” raw materials from them, at a later session.)

The students did a really excellent job of disassembly, we were really impressed with their tenacity. Early whoops of excitement gave way to repeated, dramatic sighs. Long-time Restarter Faraz provided much-needed advice and coaching.

Students learned there are often many screws in stuff: hidden screws and screws designed to keep us out. Then some things are held together by plastic enclosures that are very difficult to figure out. Some force is required, but then care is required with ribbon cables, and wires.

By the hour’s end, we had really competent catalogues of the main component parts of the devices. The students themselves appeared to be surprised by their own abilities. We’re saving each device for a later session on “the intrinsic value of gadgets for reuse and recycling”.

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