Chris Drage finds in the new 'Inventa' system a technology solution for primary schools that takes the most tentative by the hand.
Inventa is an integrated technology system for seven to 13-year-olds developed in response to the problems primary schools experience when pupils are building structures and creating driving systems.
Inventa is designed to be cut and joined, offering a range of rigid and flexible materials. It also offers gears which mesh smoothly and have sensible ratios (10-20-30-40-50 teeth), pulleys with elasticated cord and a range of components, including angle brackets, flanges, joiners and adaptor pins, all designed to link with the 10cm wooden strip, wooden and plastic dowel and link strip.
This link strip is the crux of the system: it offers flexibility, can be cut and joined via its row of holes and costs no more than an equivalent length of wooden strip. It can be joined with adaptor pins (used as rivets) to the wood strip and dowelling, and can provide a structure when the adaptor pins are used as pivots for mechanisms.
The starter pack contains the basic mechanisms and structural elements and support materials. It would be wise to purchase a starter pack first, then replenish or add various items as it becomes apparent which extras are needed.
If Inventa comprised only a cleverly-designed and integrated range of components and materials, it would hardly be doing primary technology a service. But Valiant has done far more than bundle components. It has visited schools and listened to teachers and set about offering solutions.
Teacher's support materials include the How To Use Inventa handbook, which sets the scene for using the system and addresses practical issues.
The humorous Book Of Mechanisms and the techniques sheets are best used as reference materials to be dipped into. The video, which demonstrates the correct use of tools, is of value both to teacher and pupil, and as a resource for in-service training.
The support materials focus on the development of teachers' technological skills and knowledge, and provide information on all aspects of technology from writing a school policy to classroom organisation.
A range of optional topic books is being developed to help integrate technology with other areas of the curriculum.
One aspect that clinched it for me was the degree of thought that has gone into the range of low-cost tools, with which children can build accurately and confidently.
Central to these is the worktop, designed to be clamped safely to the table without damage and on which children construct frames or mark and lay out pieces, using the ingenious clamping system to leave their hands free to work.
The 35x35cm worktop surface comprises a laminated centimetre grid, providing a ready-ruled marking out area. It also helps in accurately drawing all those 3cm card gussets for the corners.
The Valiant Vice is another well- constructed tool which clamps on to the worktop and provides matching guide holes for drilling and squaremitre cutting slots for sawing. Other tools are the mini sash cramp (Pounds 2.99, for holding frames while the glue dries), the tri-square (99p) and T-square (Pounds 1.50), and the guillotine rulercutting mat (Pounds 12.50).
Valiant has taken care to select other safe and well-designed tools, including a good hacksaw (Pounds 1.60) and an enclosed hand drill (Pounds 9.95). Everything can be stored in the Inventa storage cabinet (Pounds 85).
The result is a technology solution which takes the most tentative by the hand and introduces design, construction, mechanics and safe practice.
Valiant Technology - stand IT528