Racing to find out what makes a computer tick

Dell-sponsored event teaches pupils computers


Eighth-grader Terry Williams can take apart a computer and put it back together in minutes, naming each piece and explaining its function.

He and four classmates completed the task in six minutes yesterday.

Today, the pupils are scheduled to graduate from Dell TechKnow, a two-week course sponsored by Dell and Baltimore County public schools that aims to teach basic computer skills to children from low-income families.

"My father loves to put together computers," Williams, 13, said at a desk inside the library of Lansdowne Middle School in Halethorpe. "He asks me on a regular basis if I want to help him, and I'm like, `I would if I could.' "

Now, he can -- in addition to using software programs such as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

He and his classmates will each receive a free Dell computer that comes loaded with software programs and a year of service from America Online, a value estimated at $1,000.

The computers were donated by Dell, said Anne Horner, a county schools employee who coordinates the program. Dell TechKnow, a nationwide program, is in the final year of a three-year partnership with county schools.

Horner said the computer-skilled pupils will be around for another year and will be able to help others in the classrooms.

The school system plans to offer the TechKnow courses this year at four other schools.

Only pupils with C averages or above and no behavioral problems are accepted into the program.

The program has become so popular that at one school this year more than 100 applied and only 30 were accepted, Horner said.

"We come in here, and all they know is how to connect to the Internet," Horner said. "We've taught the students how to strip them down to the motherboard and then reassemble them. We also have taught them how to troubleshoot."

Early yesterday, the pupils split into three groups for a race. Each group had to take apart a computer and put it back together.

"Got it," 12-year-old Kayla Stiles said several minutes later, holding the motherboard in the air.

Her classmates pointed out the floppy disk drive, the CD-ROM drive and a video card.

"They link all the stuff to the motherboard," Williams said, pointing to cables.

Stiles and her classmates then scrambled to put the computer back together.

"Not bad," Ben Conry, a course instructor, told the group as he inspected their computer. "That case isn't closed though. Give it a smack on the side."

Stiles smacked the side, and the computer cover clicked into place.

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