Designed to make things real

26th May 1995 at 01:00
TECHNO: MAKING IT. Age group: 11-14.BBC2 Mondays 11.20-11.40am, repeated Thursdays 12.10-12.30pm Teacher's notes (available from July) Pounds 3. 50 plus Pounds 2 pp from BBC Educational Publishing, PO Box 234, Wetherby, West Yorks, LS23 7EU. Further information from the BBC Internet pages at http:**

Roger Frost reports on a series which lifts the lid on a technological world.

Techno is a behind-the-scenes look at real-life technology. The restyled programme shows designing, making and more, and brings some unique case studies to the classroom. It is just the stuff for television.

Over five programmes you get to meet some pretty special people. In "The Bass" you meet a professional guitarist, Yolanda Charles, and the craftworkers who will soon make a superb new guitar for her.

She visits an exclusive shop and starts to get a feel for how construction and materials affect the sound the guitar makes. She learns that the neck is laminated and the grain of the wood keeps it from twisting. And she can have it in coccoloba, quilted maple or wenge because she wants it, well, "bassy" she says. With a giggle, she goes for the maple.

And from here you see the artisans at work: cutting and shaping the wood, gluing and clamping. They solder the electronics and we learn how the pick-up works. They face the guitar in a book-matched coccoloba and we learn about finishing it to perfection.

It's hard not to admire the care, the skill and the brilliant result. Our guitarist finds it hard not to be really chuffed with her new, very expensive "baby". Her needs were fulfilled, no doubt about that.

Emotions flow again in "The Kart", where you share the aspirations of a 14-year-old go-kart champion. She is trying a new kart before a major racing event. She and a team of helpers, including ambitious Mum and Dad, start out to test the kart, recording times and making adjustments. And as they go through what they say is a hit-or-miss procedure, you pick up on the excitement, or near-panic as the team mends a puncture just seconds before the big race.

Every now and then there's a break in the action to look at the mechanisms on these machines. We learn about steering, levers, linkages and the gearing of the drive is shown particularly graphically. And so long before Mum finally exclaims "We've won", you might wonder who would let their kids drive so fast on anything so insecure.

In three other programmes you can take in more case studies one takes you through the planning and making of a promotional hot-air balloon.

Another looks at working metal showing the designing and making of armour for a jousting event and a final programme looks at structures as a military team learns to build a bridge strong enough to carry disaster relief vehicles.

If you wanted programmes with facts or how-to instructions, these are not quite like that. They're much more modern and subtle: they very effectively create the space for teaching and discussion about materials and mechanisms, tools and techniques.

But without a whiff of the teacher's guide, and with these real-life, almost fantasy stories, it is a bit hard to see the activity that the programmes lead to in the classroom. Pupils might design a kart track or racing uniforms maybe they won't notice that they aren't making go-karts, guitars and giant air balloons.

Still there's a real buzz to the programmes: they move and you move with them. The really hard bit for the teacher is trying to follow something that stimulating.

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