CHAMPAIGN – Edison Middle School students were working, bent over tables filled with computer parts, after school Wednesday.
They were installing motherboards and power supplies and adding video cards and CD drives with the help of members of the Geek Squad, who troubleshoot and repair computers.
For seventh-grader Donnie Skeels, it was the first time he had tried to build a computer. He liked seeing how all the internal parts fit together.
"All these little chips and things, they just slide in and connect," Donnie said. "You just slide them in their slots and screw them in. I thought it would be more complicated.
"To actually know how to assemble one is awesome, so if my dad's ever breaks down, I can take it apart and put it back together again," he said.
Jody Hankel, an eighth-grade student, has had a lot of experience with computers, and he's planning on building his own at home.
"This just gives me more experience," he said.
Building computers is just one thing the students have been learning this semester from the Geek Squad. They've also learned programming, photography, and networking, building their own network cables.
Several Geek Squad members have been coming to Edison a couple of times a month this semester to teach computer skills to the school's Computer Club members.
The partnership between the school and the computer geeks arose from an award Laurie Jacob, Edison's instructional technology specialist, applied for and received last spring from Best Buy.
The school received a $10,000 grant from the company to spend on technology. The grants were given to recognize schools that are integrating interactive technology into the classroom.
Jacob met with two Geek Squad supervisors, Brian Jacobson and Jared Lambert, about the award. Best Buy owns the Geek Squad. Jacobson said he and Lambert talked with some Edison students, and he became interested in working with them.
"They had a million and a half questions for us, and the things they already knew were really, really cool," Jacobson said. "It was so cool that kids that age understand things I'm researching and studying. They were so curious about it.
"The kids kind of intrigued me a lot."
The Geek Squad runs a summer academy to teach computer skills to school children, and the local Geek Squad guys are teaching those things to the Edison kids.
"They've all got things they like to do with the kids and are good at," Jacob said. "(The kids) are getting really neat exposure to all sorts of areas of technology."
Claire Tang, an eighth-grader, said her favorite has been the programming, especially those that are interactive.
"You can do anything when you use the programs," she said.
Sixth-graders Darian Wells and Zoe Kosmopoulos liked the photography. Students used glow sticks and flashlights to illuminate each other in a dark room and left the camera aperture open for different lengths of time or moved around with the lights, for different effects.
Zoe also liked rebuilding the computer Wednesday.
"It's really cool 'cause now I get to know what's inside my computer, and if I have a problem, I can say, 'Maybe this isn't functioning,'" she said.
Jacob is planning more projects for Edison students in the spring, including geocaching. GPS units are one of the things she will buy with the $10,000 award. She has already bought items such as digital and video cameras, portable hard drives, laptops, Wiimotes and laser pens, and various other computer equipment.
She is hoping most of the teachers will have ceiling-mounted projectors in their classrooms by the end of the school year, and she is working on getting the school's wireless network upgraded.