Introduction: Laptop Charging Crate for Classrooms

The school where I work as Technology Integration Specialist (yes, I love that my job title has "special" in it) recently went one-to-one with Chromebooks. This seems to be a common thing among schools these days, and those Chromebooks have been doing great.

But this Instructable isn't about them. It's about what I did with our slightly outdated and now redundant laptop carts in several of the classrooms. Those cart "labs" just weren't being used, except for maybe a couple at a time by students whose Chromebooks were not charged/at home/buried in peat/etc. Our solution was to redistribute those carts as small sets of backup laptops to each classroom.

But where do we put these trusty rusty backup machines? Just stacked somewhere? Lame. In a cardboard box? Lame, lame, and possibly flammable. In a purpose-built charging bin? Those are cool and secure, but the smallest out there are for about 10 laptops and cost about $200 each. Not worth it for these laptops that are already several years old.

Instead, for about $20 each (plus student labor) I've got some handy charging bins avoiding the lame, flammable, and/or expensive alternatives.

Step 1: The Parts

One constraint on me was getting materials from a vendor that would take purchase orders. Below are the items I used with links to their product pages and some notes on their selection.

For each charging crate, I used

  • Stacking file crate $6 - inexpensive and open, allowing good airflow to charging devices.
  • Wire file sorter/organizer $5 - The wires are a bit close together to allow the laptops to fit easily, so I can only use every other slot. But, the squeeze they give adds some friction to keep the laptops from being dropped too hard into the box.
  • 6-outlet surge suppressor strip $9 - The one I chose fits nicely the narrow direction in the file crate and has outlets set perpendicular to the strip for better access for AC adapters, including the ones that charge our Chromebooks.

I also got a bunch of 11" black zip ties. You can never have too many.

You'll want scissors, a knife, or your katana handy to trim the ends of the zip ties.

And I used a drill to get the power strip zip tied where I wanted it.

The notes on the picture are probably all you need to finish. But I'll describe more in the next steps.

Step 2: Assemble the Crates

Assembly is pretty simple, but having a crew of 4 students in an assembly line made it go very quickly. It took about 45 minutes to assemble 30 crates ready for computers.

  • Zip tie the file sorter (2 ties at each end) so that one of the edges of the sorter lines up with the edge of the crate handle (see photos). This was good spacing for the power strip and the charging cables, which come out of the sides of these laptops.
  • Slide the power strip in through the side so the ground holes are facing the file sorter.
  • Drill a hole next to the power strip big enough to let a zip tie through easily.
  • Secure the power strip with a zip tie.
  • Label everything well if this is for a school, as mine is.

Finally, we added the computers. This took another 45 minutes or so, partly because the computers were already in teachers' rooms and had to be found and set up.

  • Only use every other slot in the sorter for laptops.
  • Coil and secure most of the cord length with the velcro ties on the cords.
  • Plug the chargers in to the power strip and the computers.
  • Push the bricks with excess cord into the empty space under the file sorter.

There are some more spots on the power strip where you could plug things in, but really only room for one (maybe two) more computers in the crate.

Step 3: Final Thoughts on the Crate Design

I had originally hoped for a lockable solution, but locking file boxes are also much more enclosed and the folks who had to give the green light to this project were concerned about fire hazards from heat building up. I think that's unlikely, but I also am not primarily responsible for keeping the fire marshal happy (or at least not grumpy).

I like that these crates can be collected and stacked when it is time for updates.

The 4-ft cord is a little restrictive for some classrooms, but for the vast majority it is plenty.

The system of having backup Windows laptops in classrooms has been very successful so far during testing. It reduces downtime for students, since they can wait until lunch or other non-instructional time to deal with any Chromebook problems they may have. While they wait, they can just use the laptops that are in every room.

Fun related fact: When students log in to Chrome on the Windows laptops as they would their Chromebooks, they still have access to all their files, apps, extensions, and saved passwords.

I hope this helps someone thinking through a similar situation. Moving from the computer lab/laptop cart model of technology to the 1:1 model is a whole different world, and great stuff is happening at our school.

Thoughts or suggestions for version 2.0? Leave a comment! Thanks for reading!

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