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Circuit training

Ever cursed your computer and thought you could build a better one? Crispin Andrews meets a class of switched-on teenagers who are learning how to make their own

Get hold of an easy-to-use guide to building your own computer and never again will you have to rely on an overbearing sales assistant brandishing an extended warranty and flashing a disingenuous smile towards the latest, most expensive model in the store.

Five Year 11s from Pleckgate High School, a maths and computing college in Blackburn, Lancashire, think that people with limited IT knowledge could benefit from such a manual.

To help themselves understand how to write it, they are taking apart and putting together a PC, with the assistance of Safiya Vali, the ICT teacher.

After 30 minutes, the haphazard assortment of electrical parts begins to take shape. One pupil is about to put a graphics card into a white slot on the motherboard until another reminds him that everything is colour coded and that the memory card goes in the brown slot.

Dave Cowans, an ICT technician at the school, explains to another pupil that PCs need a sound card if they are going to play music, and asks him to look at the instructions to find out where to place it.

By the end of their 90-minute session, the budding technicians have a good idea how, where and in what order to install the necessary hardware, software and miscellaneous items; essential knowledge for when they come to compile their guide.

These are the first pupils to take Gold Ingots (International Grades in Office Technology), a new vocational qualification that has recently been given QCA accreditation.

For this community service unit, pupils think of ways of using ICT to meet local needs. Other groups have come up with building a Bunsen burner from scratch and making a model of the solar system.

Additional units teach them knowledge of open systems and the ethical issues surrounding copyright law, and help them to develop the ICT skills necessary to run a business, such as graphic design and data processing.

Two enterprise units - one knowledge-based and dealing with VAT and different types of companies, and the other requiring pupils to raise pound;50 each for a good cause - have also just been developed.

Over a year, the Pleckgate High youngsters take the first three units, gaining a level 2 qualification, equivalent to half a GCSE.

"It made sense and is something I would like to do when I leave school," says Aadil Patel, 16. Another pupil likes the way the project brings out their creativity.

Group members have to put blogs on the Ingots' website, detailing the process they go through.

These blogs are used by teachers to assess the work and, because they are in the public domain, provide a further incentive to produce quality projects.

"We made a video and a leaflet, so users could choose which guide they would like to use to build their computer," says Shoahib Ali, 16, in one blog.

Since September, more than 50 schools and colleges have introduced the course. Learning Machine Ltd, the awarding body, hopes to encourage secondaries to take on level 1 at key stage 3 and to study for entry level in primary schools


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