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An instructional platform has been developed that allows rapid prototype of network packet processing functions in hardware. This platform, called the Field Programmable Port Extender (FPX), enables engineering students to rapidly prototype and implement components for use in an Internet router or firewall. Customized circuits allow networking equipment to increase the throughput and enhance functionality of packet processing operations. On the FPX, custom circuits are implemented as hardware modules. An infrastructure circuit on the FPX interconnects multiple modules and provides a common interface to shared resources. All logic on the FPX is implemented with Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs). A teaching methodology has been developed which minimizes the learning curve for hardware engineering students that want to develop network modules but are relatively unfamiliar with Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) and/or the Internet Protocol (IP) suite. Library functions have been developed to implement low-level details of the networking protocols. The use of these libraries and the infrastructure logic on the FPX allows the students to focus their effort on the design of their own module and to leverage the work of others.