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The brick road to mechanics

Lego Motorised Systems, Motorised systems kit Pounds 64.00; starter set, (inc support materials), Pounds 303.84; class set, (inc support materials) Pounds 558.96.

Problem Solving using Motorised Systems, support materials for pupils and teachers Pounds 17.60; Technology Resource set (9v) Pounds 153.60; Extension Activities for Technology Pounds 34.99.

Lego Dacta, Lego UK Ltd, Ruthin Road, Wrexham, Clwyd, LL13 7TQ. Chris Drage reviews the latest Lego kit this time for secondary In primary school Lego Technic addresses topics such as structures, mechanisms, driving systems, and manual and computer control in a way that provides an excellent introduction to these areas. It also forms the basis of a design from which much larger models can be attempted in other materials. For secondary level these principles are extended and developed by the new Motorised Systems kit and its accompanying support materials, which aim to meet the demands of the technology curriculum at key stages 3 and 4.

The emphasis is placed on a modular approach, which means elements in a system can be made quickly and then easily connected together to en-able real-life mechanical systems to be explored.

Motorised Systems uses Lego Dacta's now-familiar 9v system with battery box and motor, both connected with the new, fool-proof, connector lead-bricks. It uses the construction and organisation of modules and complete models to help pupils develop an understanding of complex technical concepts.

The motor module provides the driving force to six transmission modules (belt drive, belt clutch, spur gears, periodic gear, chain drive and oscillating gear) and finally to three output modules (a conveyor, bending machine and turntable). All of these can be used in any combination.

The modules can be constructed very quickly (my seven-year-old took 10 minutes to make a motor module and belt drive) and then be connected, tested, modified and refined comfortably within the limits of lesson time. An essential element is the excellent support materials pack.

The teacher's guide provides detailed information to support a full investigation of mechanical principles and their applications and is arranged in seven units, each dealing with a different mechanism. Every unit is more challenging than the last, and is guided by cards arranged in four colour-coded levels.

With copious copymasters, the teacher's guide gives a useful cross-reference to all the construction, extension and problem-solving cards at each level. The structure of the materials offers flexibility in approach and allows the content to be covered in a variety of ways.

The initial cost is always the first snag for teachers who, starved of funds, will often opt for cheaper solutions. Five years ago I helped my school spend more than Pounds 800 on Technic I II class sets with resource materials, and over that period it has proved to be cost-effective and durable. Spread over a number of years, the initial cost can be put into a more realistic perspective.

Lego Dacta provides a useful video of the system to try-before-you-buy, if you are unsure. If you decide to purchase a few sets at a time to spread the cost, do take account of the teacherpupil support materials and large resource set. In my experience, these items are essential.

The way in which the Lego Technic system develops and extends mechanical principles from the introduction of simple machines, pneumatics, automatic control (Control Centre) to motorised systems and finally computer control (Control Lab), all using a construction system familiar to every child, is its major attribute. Similarly, it provides an excellent modellingprototyping system to create a design platform for work in other materials.

You can be guaranteed that you will never have any problems motivating pupils to learn about technology or physics if you incorporate Motorised Systems into the lesson.

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