Not all parent group events require a ton of planning or volunteers to be a hit—in fact, sometimes simple events can have a major impact.
Lisa Pratto, past president of the Discovery Charter School PTA in Inver Grove Heights, Minn., learned firsthand how less is sometimes more at her school’s Tech Take-Apart Night, where students had permission to disassemble and play with donated, used electronics like CPU towers, CD players, printers, and alarm clocks.
“We literally stuck 10 round tables in the middle of the gym, brought the tech in the room, and tossed in some tools,” says Pratto, who has organized some 100 events as a PTA volunteer and calls this event “the simplest.”
At the beginning of the school year, the PTA asked families whether they had any disposable technology and the families more than delivered, donating items ranging from printers and computer components to an Easy-Bake oven.
The only thing the group didn’t take was computer monitors, to eliminate glass as a danger. Leaders purchased bandages to have on hand in case of cuts (there were none), and cut off all electrical cords. They stored the items in an unused classroom until the event date.
Discovery is a STEM school, integrating lots of programming around science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, so Tech Take-Apart Night was a perfect fit. About 50 students came out for the two-hour evening event in February. Some kids stuck with one piece of technology for the whole night, while others bounced between two or three items.
“Kids just instinctively knew to start unscrewing things,” Pratto says.
While the event requires only one volunteer, she recommends having at least two to help with flow and organization. Her husband, a biomedical technician, went from table to table to help the students and give explanations of the technology they were taking apart. At the end of the evening, all parents who were still there helped wipe off the tables in a five-minute cleanup. The nearby recycling center took all of the dismantled technology at no charge.
Amy Ryan, the PTA’s vice president of community and a volunteer at the event, is working with her son’s Cub Scout pack to put on a similar event. “To watch my son explore with his hands and mind in this way was incredible,” she says. “He loved exploring the insides of a video game guitar and learning about how different something can be on the inside than it is on the outside.”
Parent and event volunteer Amelia La Casse says the adults there could see the excitement on the students’ faces. “This is not something kids get to do every day. They needed to work slowly and think about how a device is put together so that they could take it apart without breaking it. The kids would then work together and compare, discuss, and challenge each other,” she says, adding that her son couldn’t stop talking about the event when it was over.
“He keeps asking when the next event will be,” La Casse says. “I love that excitement!”
Pratto also picked up on lots of enthusiasm from the children, and she particularly valued a comment from a female student. “She told me that she always wanted to take stuff apart but was too scared,” Pratto says. “Her mom said that she does it every weekend now.”
Discovery Charter School PTA
Inver Grove Heights, Minn.
175 students, grades K-6
Putting Together Tech Take-Apart Night
August to December
- Solicit donations through parent group social media, flyers, newsletters, and school website
- Collect and store donated technology items
- Contact recycling center to see whether disassembled electronics items will be accepted
- Recruit volunteers
- Do final inventory check to determine any additional supplies needed
- Purchase screwdrivers, Allen wrenches, wire snips, and needle-nose pliers
Day of event
- Set up eight to 10 tables
- Evenly distribute tech items and tools on each table
- Observe kids and assist if needed
- Transport remnants to recycling center