Mission: Control (Crystal Rainforest 2) For Acorn A-series Pounds 44.95 single user (site licences, Pounds 67.45 primary; Pounds 89.90 secondary) From Sherston Software, Angel House, Sherston, Malmesbury, Wiltshire SN16 0LH.
Control technology continues to be one of the least understood aspects of IT in primary schools. In the infant classroom, independent floor robots like Pip and Roamer and table-top robots like Pixie are able to help deliver most aspects of computer control. Problems begin when you get to the control box with its switches, bulbs, buzzers, wires and plugs. Enter Mission: Control to make things less daunting.
Very much in the mould of Crystal Rainforest, Mission: Control aims to put important aspects of control into an adventure scenario. As in Crystal Rainforest, the setting is the land of Azon on the planet Oglo where the fiendish Gomez and his evil robots must be thwarted in order to prevent an environmental catastrophe.
To solve the various obstacles they encounter in the plot, children are given the opportunity to create, test, modify and store sequences of instructions in order to control motors, lights, lifting machines and so on. They progress to developing feedback systems which respond to data from a sensor.
This is skilfully handled: children are presented with all the components in place on the screen and left to use the mouse to guide the wires and "connect" them to relevant control terminals on the control box. Once this is done they are offered a range of appropriate commands from which to build a small program to operate the "equipment" needed in the adventure. The child's program can be tested as it is created without any imposition of time penalties. Indeed, the program offers many prompts and helpful hints.
All the work undertaken on screen can be adapted to standard control equipment found in most primary schools although some of the commands used in the adventure may need to be reconfigured to suit an individual school's control language (Prism, CoCo etc).
The program offers a wonderful excuse for getting out the old BBC B and Deltronics Buffer Box from the cupboard to use as proving ground for the Mission: Control programs.
With Mission: Control, Sherston has offered an excellent introduction to control which should appeal to non-specialist teachers as much as the pupils who will undoubtedly find it highly motivating and enjoyable. There's some lovely humour employed which children really appreciate.
I doubt that many schools can claim to be on top of control technology with this aspect of IT well established. If your school is one of the majority that is not, then Mission: Control is one piece of control software you cannot afford to be without.