of Broadstone Middle School was asked by the Dorset Technology team to
evaluate the Valiant Control Console. Here is his report.
Frog Trap. A pressure pad inside the box activates
the motor to wind up the drawbridge.
In the Beginning
We have always had a problem of space and time in our workshop, probably
like most other middle schools. "Doing" control work with children meant
bringing in a couple of BBC masters on trolleys, bolting on the Phobox
with trailing wires everywhere and, in the session, getting a group or
two through the work. A bit of a headache especially when the computers
were needed by someone else, or the hardware had to be stored in the dusty
environment of the workshop. You didn't have the room for them in the
first place and your aim was to get all 150 7th years through a piece
of control work during the year. You would have liked 6 Archimedes with
Phoboxes, the money to buy them, a dust free zone in which to operate,
the time to make the models and then control them... In reality you never
did much control work, it wasn't worth the hassle!
And then came the Valiant Control Console, the size of an A4 note pad,
with its understandable keyboard features, simple screw in terminal ports,
Logo-based language, inputs, outputs, stepper motor drives and a counter
facility. So how did the teachers take to it? And the pupils?
There's no screen, no edit facility; programming has to be worked out
on paper beforehand. Having to write down the programming was a good learning-familiarisation
exercise. If one enters a bad command, the Console sends out a warning
signal, the last command can also be deleted. If the program is written
as a series of procedures then, on discovering an error, only the procedure
needs to be rewritten. The Console will not store your programs, but,
with the interface kit, they can be downloaded into a BBC or Nimbus and
viewed or printed at a later date and then reloaded into the Console.
It has 8 output and 8 input ports, commands can be repeated, or made into
procedures. The accompanying booklet is clear and precise with its information,
directions and ideas - it is very user friendly.
Level Crossing. The train has a magnet underneath.
There are reed switches either side of the motorised barriers.
I worked with a group of year 7 children on a topic of barriers and traps
over 9 afternoons. Work included frog/fox/mouse traps, level crossings,
carparks and customs posts. When the children had built their models,
including the electronic components, an explanation of the Control Console
was given by myself, along with some sample programs. The children were
able to test their electronic components through the Console with simple
programming before they embarked on writing procedures. Once shown the
way they quickly picked up the language and wrote successful programs
(help from teacher was given when motors needed to be reversed). On having
successfully caught an animal or viewed the approach of the train, children
were keen to refine their programming or develop it. Some children added
a sound dimension to their work, others worked on timing. They enjoyed
My colleague who also used the Console with a year 7 group doing similar
work was pleased with its capabilities. An ex-member of the IT team was
also suitably impressed. I had the Console over the summer holidays and
was so pleased with its performance that on returning to school I ordered
5 more (no, I didn't buy the company!) A colleague at Hytec (Hertfordshire)
who was also evaluating the Console, gave it the thumbs up too.
The Console is small enough to be transported and stored easily to allow
it to be used anywhere in the school and is good value for money. It has
enabled children working in groups of three to have access to a Control
Console with no waiting or queueing. Time can be well spent. It is a tool
that can be used at the most simple level to the most complex.
Don't judge it on its appearance, see what it can do...