Happy landings

20th May 2005 at 01:00
Mike Levy sees pupils' ingenuity challenged when they set out to design a flashing sequence for runway approach lights

Design and Technology Week next month is all about encouraging creativity and challenging students. And a unique project organised at a former Battle of Britain airfield for a group of Year 10 students during last year's DT event did just that.

The class of 32 boys from Colchester Royal Grammar School spent a day at Duxford airfield, Cambridgeshire (part of the Imperial War Museum), designing and creating a light sequence for the airfield's runway approach lights, a task that fitted neatly into key stage 3 control technology curriculum. They also had to program a two-letter Morse Code signal sent by the control tower beacon to help incoming aircraft identify the airfield.

Peter Halford, science and technology teacher at Duxford, said: "My aim was to set a challenging programming project for gifted and talented children - one that had real, practical application."

Although Duxford does not have facilities for night landings, Peter thought that this would be a fun challenge to set a bright DT class. He chose Data Harvest's Flowol software as the control language because it is "very intuitive and easy to get to grips with in a short time".

The students had 90 minutes to program a sequence of runway lights that conformed to Civil Aviation Authority rules. This meant the lights must flash in a ripple sequence towards the runway. Students worked with a special "mimic", an on-screen simulation of Duxford airfield so they could see the results of their programming. The groupwas split into three. As one team worked on the runway lights program, a second was shown around the museum while a third was takeninto the air traffic control tower, something the public never usually sees.

The boys needed little help or motivation to complete the light sequencing and Morse Code programming, said Peter. "The beauty of working with the software and mimic is that they can quickly learn from doing. It obviously helps if they have had some experience of using Flowol, but they pick it up very fast."

Once the programming side was complete, the boys had another treat in store. Peter had created a 3-D model of Duxford's runway and control tower.

Once complete, the students could see how their programs worked. This is done by linking the PC to a PIC chip using the SOLO PIC programming system.

This comprises a SOLO Communicator, a palm-sized unit that connects the PC to the PIC chip. The chip is then used to control the lighting and Morse Code beacon of the scale model.

John Huggett, head of DT at the Colchester school, said: "Duxford museum is much more than a nice day out. The course that Peter has put together is spot on for our systems and control students. We are taking another 40 students to Duxford, split over two days. The boys love the challenge set and it's great for them to see how what they learn in the classroom has a practical application."

The project has been so successful that Peter Halford is extending it to other year groups. "I have already worked with a Year 6 gifted and talented group. They loved it, especially seeing what they had designed actually coming alive in the model."

Duxford is used to dealing with primary school classes. One of its most popular projects, saysPeter, is How an Aeroplane Flies and Forces in Action. This is a Year 6 activity, encompassing themes such as the forces of gravity, push andpull, lift and drag, up-thrust, reaction, buoyancy and friction. Children work in small groupsand explore these themes using purpose-built demonstration equipment.

Duxford is not the only museum offering exciting DT activities. For example, Newhaven Fort and Worthing Museum offer key stages 2 and 3 pupils the chance to learn about radio broadcastingwith the help of amateur radio clubs and is co-ordinated by Setpoint Sussex.

That same organisation also runs a series of robot-building competitions for KS 2 to 4. Their Antweight Challenge is usually run over two days and ends in a Robot Wars-style knockout competition. The event fits many of the DT curriculum requirements and involves undergraduates who act as science and engineering ambassadors.

* Design andTechnology Week: June 20 to 24 *The Imperial War Museum, Duxford, runs workshops and full-day events for primary, secondary, post-16 and special needs throughout the year Tel: 01223 499341 Email: dux-edu@iwm.org.uk http:duxford.iwm.org.uk

* Setnet, the Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics Network, is a charity that offers advice on activities and special events, and provides science and engineering ambassadors for schools Tel: 020 7636 7705 www.setnet.org.uk

Setpoint Sussex Tel: 01273 642023 www.setpointsussex.org.uk

* Keep an eye on the Data website for information on resources, competitions and events that can be used to support Design and Technology Week www.data.org.uk

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