Resource Material for the IT PGCE:
constructing a computer-controlled model

This page gives activities and resources for the 'Developing ideas and making things happen' session in which you construct a computer-controlled, moving model which responds to an external stimulus.

Learning objectives About this session Products of the session
At the Institute    
Task Timetable Links to other sessions
In the classroom    
Misconceptions Classroom examples Teaching point
Other Resources    
DfEE Schemes of work Software links and tutorials Books/Papers


Learning objectives

The learning objectives for this session are that by the end of it you should:

  1. be able to use Logo to control a set of traffic lights and a motor;
  2. know how this kind of activity fits within the IT National Curriculum;
  3. understand the more common misconceptions pupils have when writing Logo procedures and using computers for control.

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About this session

In this session, you will use a version of Logo to control lights, motors and buzzers. You will also use sensors (e.g. of light) to provide an input to the computer, and the action that your computer will take will depend on that input. This use of IT is a prominent part of everyday life, and its teaching in schools is often associated with D&T lessons. The session also highlights a number of the common misconceptions that pupils have about using computers for control (in general) and about Logo in particular.

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Products of the session

This is a link to the index of the procedures the groups constructed. They have been annotated to indicate what they do.

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At the Institute

The task

The task for each group is two-fold:

  1. to build a working set of traffic lights;
  2. to build a vehicle from Lego with at least two motors which responds to the input from at least one sensor.

In both cases the software package CoCo will be used to control your models. This uses a version of Logo to write control procedures.

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The timetable

At 9:30 there will be a brief introduction to the task and the resources available. Each group will then have until 12:10 to complete the two tasks. Groups will demonstrate their traffic lights and vehicles to everyone - the traffic lights at 11:00 and the vehicles at 12:10.

Following the demonstration of the working vehicles there will be a discussion of the classroom implications of issues raised during the morning - including (but not confined to) monitoring progress during extended activities and ensuring that during group work every member of the group is actively involved.

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Links to other sessions

This session builds on the ideas introduced the previous week in the session on 'Logo and on-screen control'. The models you built responded to external stimuli. The session on 'Datalogging' looks at ways in which computers can be used to monitor and record changes in external stimuli.

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In the classroom


There are two common misconceptions relating to the use of computers to control external events:

  1. Misunderstanding what the computer does and controls. If you tell a computer to draw a line (for example FD 100) then the computer is busy all the time that the line is being drawn, and can only do another instruction once after it has finished drawing. If however you tell the computer to turn on a light (for example SWITCH ON 1) then once the light has been switched on, the computer is free to do another instruction - it is not busy all the time that the light is on. The misconception here is the belief that the computer is keeping the light on, rather than that the computer switches the light on (and off). The computer only changes states - not maintains them.
  2. Not understanding that the computer processes instructions sequentially rather than in parallel. This is seen when, for example, pupils wish to run an ambulance with flashing lights. They may write one procedure (with an infinite loop) to make the lights flash and another to control the ambulance. They want the computer to start the first procedure and then begin the second. This will not work because the computer will never leave the first procedure. The misconception is that the computer can process more than one set of instructions at once.

For misconceptions relating to pupils' use of Logo see the misconceptions section of the 'Logo and on-screen control' page.

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Classroom examples

A key point when introducing control is to stress that computers are inherently stupid - they will do what they are told and only what they are told. Jane Challis developed a simple, quick (5 min) and very effective activity to illustrate this. You can read the details on the worksheet she produced to explain the activity to other BTs.

Many secondary schools use Logicator for control work - especially in Design and Technology lessons. You should visit their website, not least for its list of projects. You can also download a demonstration version of the software which will run a series of example flow-sheets.

See also the 'Control' page of DigitalBrain's London Grid for Learning site, and decide how much of this is really applicable to KS4.

For examples of what can be achieved with primary school pupils, visit the Ambleside School Robo-Zone which also has a number of useful links.

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Teaching point

In this session you are using much more equipment than in most IT lessons. In addition, most of this equipment is both small, expensive and coveted by many pupils. How are you to ensure that all the equipment handed out is returned? This is very important - you would not be popular if every time you did this lesson, equipment went missing. You should discuss ways in which to achieve this with science BTs in your school - they face similar problems in many lessons.

A common variant on this theme is that many schools have adopted procedures to stop pupils removing mouse balls - for example handing out the balls at the start of lesson and taking them back at the end, or requiring pupils to leave the mouse with the ball facing up so that the teach can check they are all still there before dismissing the class.

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Other Resources

The DfEE Schemes of Work

You should look at the following units of the DfEE schemes of work:

Key Stage 2: unit 5E, Controlling devices; unit 6C, Control and monitoring - What happens when...?;

Key Stage 3: unit 12 Control systems.

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See chapter 9 of Jean Underwood's book 'Computer based Learning: potential into practice' (Institute library reference Loyx UND).

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This page is maintained by Tim Brosnan. Please send any comments to:
Last updated on 19th June 2001 .