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LEGO - hitting the mark for Science teaching
Roger Frost - TES 2000
 

With some of the most enthralling new teaching kits, Lego Dacta is set to score high marks in science and technology this year. With an array of intriguing components, e-LAB for exploring energy in school is a must-see.

In the Renewable Energy set, pupils use Lego motors as electricity generators in windmills and waterwheels while a new capacitor brick wired into the system shows them how this kind of energy can be stored. Indeed, they can go on to actually measure the energy of these devices – by measuring the distance the stored energy can lift a mass. Rating as a very ‘cool’ brick is the Lego solar cell, made by Shell, which you can use to make a sun powered buggy, and again show the capacitor in use as a store when the sun goes down.

What’s attractive is not just the Lego material, but how so many aspects of the topic can be dealt with. In the most time pressed of situations, at the very least here are the ingredients for a superb circus of energy investigations.

The kit is made awesome by unusually efficient motors. Turning one wired to another will yield a drop-jaw as you see that a single turn of one motor produces almost a full turn of the other. When pupils try to generate power for a couple of motors, they feel the increased torque and can count the turns to measure the efficiency - as the worksheet says, ‘you can’t get something for nothing’. In fact, the teaching notes here are a credit to the hardware: creative contexts, structured activities and no short measure on learning through hands-on.

Well done I’d say, but there are distractions in the computer department where the educational wing of the company have a control and monitoring system based on the intelligent brick called the RCX. This microprocessor device has connections for three motor or lamp outlets and three sensors and can be remote-controlled by an infra-red transmitter. Though first seen as Lego Mindstorms, a home robotics system, the school set-up is designed to develop ideas about control in more progressively. To this end specially developed software called Robolab, unfolds level by level to offer more and more control capability. It is surprising how much easier it makes classic control projects – like a light-seeking buggy, a passenger lift or a greenhouse. In fact, it makes many old style projects attainable. Surprising really, given that at the heart of this software lies LabView, a state of the art monitoring package used in industry. Progress through the software brings more of this upfront. For the first time, it’s not the software or the hardware that is in the way of designing and making solutions. You can really go places with this.     

What’s new this year is a science edition of the Robolab software, where the same core hardware gains the new trick of being able to measure and display temperatures, light levels and even oxygen levels. The new software, due soon, features a graph display where you might see how steady is the greenhouse temperature. There are also software tools to analyse the graphs in a myriad of ways and another first: you can write up your project in the software and then save it as web pages.

There’s an unusual completeness about Lego Dacta’s data logging kit: it works with LogIT range sensors, is self-powered and offers opportunities for control and monitoring projects which to date have been beyond reach.

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Prices are from 2000: there are several pack options in the eLAB series with separate sets for two themes. The suggested set-up for a whole class is one Energy, Work and Power set (£185.50) and three Renewable Energy sets (£104) plus two teaching materials (£18.50 each). The Solar Cell (£26) and capacitor (£11) are available to supplement these and make for some entertaining classroom displays. 

Web: www.lego.com/dacta/elab

Available from Lego Dacta

 
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