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Restart @school session 6: Mobiles, lithium batteries and critical raw materials

It was only a matter of time before we took on mobiles! Students have personal mobiles but they are often banned in schools. So they are almost a kind of taboo topic in some schools.

Mobiles are excellent because they allow us to talk about the accelerated “upgrade” cycles (we encouraged students to watch this video) – and reinforce what we taught in our previous session, that mobile “upgrades” are a particularly new, wasteful use of the word.

As recently as 2010, “upgrade” meant improving on a device you had. Now it means discarding what you have and getting a new one.

Mobiles also allow us to talk about the impacts of miniaturisation – their material consequences. We delved into the topic of “critical raw materials” – what allow us to shrink down electronics, and lithium in batteries. (We were quite surprised that students were not that familiar with the concept of “conflict minerals” or “blood in the mobile” – these are quite complex topics and require much more time to go into properly.)

We learned that these critical raw materials are not very recyclable, so recycling cannot save us.

Replacing lithium batteries

Now most students had mobiles requiring screen replacements. One student confessed to having her iPhone 5c screen replaced six times! Sadly, screen replacements require more practice, more time and often expensive spare parts.

For our lesson, we decided to focus on lithium battery replacement on a couple of well-known smartphones. Some students remembered when users were able to pop out batteries and replace them without screwdrivers. All of the models we picked: iPhone 4, 4s, and Nexus 5, required a number of screws to be removed. They all required careful removal of connectors.

Mobiles were excellent practice at mindful disassembly. That said, a couple of mini screws did go flying. (We reassured students that this happens to the best of us, but this is why we have emphasised technique, care and the use of screw containers or magnetic mat.)

Making prep easier

We sourced all of the phones and replacement batteries for this exercise, but in retrospect, we would have liked to have partnered with a local mobile repair shop, so that they could bring demo devices and batteries. This could be a great way for repairers to increase their visibility and do community service. This is what we will be recommending for schools that need the simplest way to replicate this activity.

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