Pull the levers of power

Chris Drage

Lego Dacta Early Simple Machines Pounds 57. Lego Dacta Mini Sets Pounds 12. Lego Dacta Simple and Powered Mechanisms Pounds 56-74. Lego Dacta, Ruthin Road, Wrexham, LL13 7TQ. Tel: 01978 296292 Age range: 5-11

Although Lego Dacta has always been synonymous with quality technology products, there has been little to connect the products to further activities such as computer control and sensing in science in primary schools. However, this is about to change with Early Simple Machines (for five to eight-year-olds), Mini Sets (for seven to nine-year-olds) and Simple and Powered Mechanisms (for nine to 11-year-olds).

For teaching mechanisms to young children, the Early Simple Machines set covers all mechanical principles with big elements that are easy to use for small hands. A teacher activity pack includes a guide with additional pupil cards for investigation and problem-solving activities.

For the next key stage, Lego Dacta has introduced the new, low-cost Mini Sets. These are ideal for focused tasks concentrating on one mechanical principle - either gears, levers, pulleys or wheels and axles. They are ideal for the non-specialist teacher and for classes which have not had previous experience with construction sets. They can also be used for reinforcing and extending the knowledge gained previously via Early Simple Machines. The excellent teacher's guides are obviously written and developed by teachers.

Simple and Powered Mechanisms offers a structured approach for teaching mechanisms to older juniors. The kit replaces Lego Dacta's long-standing Technic I and 2 sets and offers a huge improvement.

The powered system is compatible with the rest of the Lego Dacta range and the teacher support material is again excellent. It provides the teacher with an instant lesson plan to enable children to learn through exploration, investigation and problem-solving. In addition, the kit has more elements such as cams, belts, racks and wheels including a new gearbox, a better storage facility with a transparent sorting tray and snap-on lid. Above all, the kit enables the teacher to cover all aspects of simple and powered mechanisms.

There's now a natural progression from Early Simple Machines and the focused and reinforced tasks based on one mechanical principle at the beginning of key stage 2 with the Mini Sets. Teachers who are confident teaching mechanisms may want to use only Simple and Powered Mechanisms for the whole of key stage 2, as the support material provides the complete development with lesson plans and background information.

Lego Dacta kits are typically regarded as expensive but my school's experience is otherwise. With careful management, our Technic 1 and 2 kits have been going strong for nearly 10 years now. Funds are tight but if you are looking for technology kits which take you by the hand, introducing and developing all the basic aspects of mechanisms, driving systems and structures, these new kits fulfil the role perfectly.

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Chris Drage

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