Mining for bitcoins (or any digital currency) is just like mining for precious metals – but rather than panning or digging for gold, bitcoins are ‘mined’ by computers solving difficult algorithmic problems. That’s it. All you need is a computer with some mining software running.
Anyone can do it. In reality however, setting one PC to task will earn bitcoins so slowly that it’s unlikely that the gain will repay the cost of the electricity required to run and cool the computer. It is the equivalent to one prospector panning for gold in a river. The big winners are the large organisations that have mechanised the processes and are mining on a huge scale. Exactly the same applies to mining for bitcoins. The more resources you can throw at it, the quicker you win.
The other interesting similarity between bitcoins and gold is that, like gold, bitcoins are a dwindling resource. There will only ever be 21 million bitcoins that can be mined. Almost half of them have already been mined, so, like gold, the longer it takes to find them the harder it will get.
Brilliant Idea #84 is for schools to mine for bitcoins. They generally have lots of computers being used all day long. The extra CPU power to run the mining client would be negligible and is unlikely to impact the performance of the PCs to a point at which it interrupts the lesson.
It’s as close to free money for a school as you can get. It’s also a fantastic tool in teaching pupils economics.