For several students in Kevin Harvell’s computer science class at Leadership Prep School in Frisco, building computers was right up their alley.
For others, not so much.
But by the end of a project-based learning assignment that encompassed much of the school year, they all learned something about helping others.
About 82 students recently completed a project in which they raised money for computer parts and used those to assemble desktop computers that had been in disrepair. The students will donate the computers to Richardson-based nonprofit Computers for the Blind.
This is the second year for the project. Harvell’s class donated four computers last year to Goodwill, but that number grew to 17 this year. Tuesday, Harvell and the students showed school and community members what they accomplished.
“One challenge that was given to us was to have a project that would have an authentic impact on the community,” Harvell said. “So I thought of a curriculum that would make a difference. This would give people access to the internet, because even in Frisco there are people in need of computers.”
Sophomore Ayman Omar said he used the website Charity Navigator to find which organization should receive the computers this year. He said Computers for the Blind made the most sense.
“They’ve donated 10,000 computers, they’re highly rated and they have a good track record,” Omar said. “We knew this would be the perfect fit for our project.”
David Jeppson, executive director of Computers for the Blind, said once his organization receives computers, they install programs to help blind people, such as Jaws, which converts text to speech, and Zoom, which enlarges the text for people who have limited vision.
“I know how much technology means to blind people,” Jeppson said. “Now that many things are available electronically, this opens up a world of good for those who are blind.”
The students began by raising money for the parts. With help from a GoFundMe page, a bake sale and a video game tournament, the students were able to raise $2,000. The school provided an additional $5,000 with help from key donations from Collin County Commissioner Susan Fletcher and Frisco Councilman John Keating.
“A lot of the students had never fund raised before,” Harvell said.
Students also learned about pricing for parts. Once they had the parts, they began building the computers.
To stay on task, the students crafted a team contract to hold each student accountable. And to make sure the students were learning as they progressed, there were quizzes throughout the process.
Split into teams of five, students built the computer’s motherboard, followed by the central processing unit (CPU), fan, random access memory (RAM) hard drive and power supply. The bits on the motherboard were pre-installed.
For some, the project was second nature.
“It was pretty easy,” said sophomore Alby Joseph. “I had just gone to a cyber security camp, so this was a recap of that.”
Sophomore Jordan Hendrix, however, never imagined she would be building a computer.
“I thought it would be daunting, but it wasn’t as hard as I thought,” Hendrix said. “But I was nervous when we put in the CPU because they said if I break it, it’ll cost $100.”
By the time the students were complete, each computer had a Linux operating system called Raspbian. The computers were outfitted with the specs Computers for the Blind asked for.
During Tuesday’s presentation, Jeppson talked about the importance of technology for blind people. He said there is a 63 percent unemployment rate for blind people, so many can’t afford computers.
“About 95 percent of high school students use computers, but only 35 percent of blind people have access to them,” Jeppson said. “With your help, we’re able to give them that.”