Education leads way for industry

25th August 2000 at 01:00
The oil and gas control technology kit comes complete with its own "brain" and is transforming pupils' perceptions of these industries, says Eleanor Caldwell.

A pack for technological studies, issued last year to every school teaching the subject at Higher level, shows education leading industry, Higher Still leading 5-14 and Scotland leading England and Wales.

Produced jointly by the United Kingdom Offshore Operations Association (UKOOA) and the Higher Still Development Unit, the Control Technology in the Oil and Gas Industry kit helps pupils study the topic of control, using the latest micro technology. In addition to buzzers, lights, motor and software for demonstrating control programs, the most important element of the kit is its "brain", the "basic stamp controller".

Charlie Penman, a Higher Still field officer, in co-operation with educational consultant, Clive Seager, developed the specifications for this state-of the-art interface board to make it compatible with the PCs, Archimedes and Apple computers already in schools. This level of micro control technology is only now moving into industry, he says: "Both BP and Amoco are absolutely astonished that we already have the stamp controller and that we created it first and foremost for education."

Linked directly to the technology of the offshore industry, the kit gives pupils an opportunity to solve real problems based on the production of oil and gas. Support materials give problem-solving projects such as oil and water separation and temperature monitoring, in which pupils can develop an understanding of control within the context of the clean technology of the oil industry. The kit has become an integral part of teaching at Falkirk High where, according to the principal teacher of technological studies, Tracy Fox, the replacement of existing interfaces with the kit's basic stamp controller allows pupils to enjoy "quick success" in real industry-based problem solving.

Using the kit to tackle a project, pupils can avoid the need for actual construction of models of machinery and can concentrate on problem solving. In class, after examining the project, the pupils' target is to write their own program. A brainstorming session is followed by collation of information which is then "sent" to the crucial square chip on the basic stamp controller.

While projects in the support materials are based on the oil and gas industry, the processes may be related to ther aspects of work in control technology. Four S6 pupils used the kit to design a prototype of the Millennium Wheel, currently under construction near Falkirk. Providing a link-up of the Forth, Clyde and Union canals, the wheel will replace the canal lock system by lifting boats in enclosed cabins or caissons.

Mrs Fox, who is a Higher Still development officer and national trainer, explains that in offering problem-solving projects, the kit enables pupils to work on the language of command at different levels. S3 pupils Stuart Milne and Neil Bankier say that the basic stamp controller is much easier to use than existing interfaces.

"You can use word programs instead of binary," adds Stuart. Both boys have become very interested in technological studies and are already considering careers in engineering.

Although originally designed for Higher Still and Intermediate 2 work, the kit is now being used at all levels. The project on the separation of oil and water adapts well to S1 work, says Mrs Fox, adding that the topic of control has also been added to the S2 technological studies programme. With a Higher Still resource which has already filtered down into early secondary classes, she believes a similar kit would be invaluable in a primary classroom. Aware of primary teachers' insecurities about teaching technology within the environmental studies curriculum, she says micro control technology and project-based support materials can greatly assist the non-specialist.

Work with the kit need not be restricted to the oil and gas industry. Fairgrounds, for example, offer a good area for solving problems of control and teachers can adapt the kit's projects to cover aspects of sensory, light or heat control in many environments. The basic stamp controller has now been adopted as the mandatory control platform for all Higher Still courses and exams.

It dispels the myth that the oil industry is dirty and gives pupils a new perspective on solving real technological problems. Charlie Penman is delighted and points out that recent training courses for teachers of technological studies have been greatly over-subscribed. The chief development officer for Higher Still, Mary Pirie, stresses the importance of such new partnerships between education and industry in Scotland.

Oil and Gas Technology Kit, pound;158 from the UK Offshore Operators Association, 1st Floor, 30 Buckingham Gate, London SW1 6NN, tel: 020 7802 2422

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