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Control (physical computing)

Design and write programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems.

Control implies something to be controlled, i.e. there must be one or more outputs - a motor, a heater, a loudspeaker, movement of a piston, a display etc. Then there must be some system which has been designed to control the output. There are two distinct means of control:
a) a sequence of instructions via a computer program, or 
b) a response to some external input such as temperature, light, pressure or moisture level, although this is not addressed in the programme of study where control of physical systems is in the context of designing and writing programs to accomplish specific goals. Some systems use both means of controlling the output.

Control can be taught "unplugged" without a computer through role play activities, on screen using for example Scratch, Logo or App Inventor, or using models via an interface.

Self study resources
  • Physical Computing/Computer Control KS1 to KS3 - see these guidelines for advice on the teaching of  physical computing from Year 1 to Year 8.
  • Using the Raspbery Pi to teach physical computing at KS2 and KS3.  Follow this link for some project ideas and full guidelines.
  • A beginner's guide to physical computing This Prezi is a simple guide to control technology for the complete beginner.   It is intended to get Primary schools up and running and to help them to deliver the Computing POS in a creative and engaging way.
  • A beginner's guide to physical computing This video is a simple guide to control technology for the complete beginner.   It is intended to get Primary schools up and running and to help them to deliver the Computing POS in a creative and engaging way.
  • Flowol 4 video tutorial
  • Kent LEA - control and sensing resources
  • Arduino - cool programmable micro-controller, basis for countless projects. A number of good books are available for trainees wishing to explore this further.
  • PiFace and Gertboard - control interface boards for the Raspberry Pi.
  • Data logging example using Scratch.  This simple example shows how Scratch can be used to collect numerical data and represent it graphically - see file below (cat collects the data, click space to clear data and g key to draw a graph).  With the addition of a PicoBoard data could be collected from the on-board sensors or via additional sensors attached to the inputs.
  • An excellent example of Scratch used for data logging with a PicoBoard and thermistor. 
  • Burglar alarm project.  Watch the video for an outline of a project to teach control using a Raspberry Pi computer and gPiO box.  http://youtu.be/E4gT2u6CBnY  This also serves as a simple and engaging way to introduce Python for the first time.
Resources for lectures or group study
Resources for use with pupils
  • Pro Bot - classic floor turtle robot car from TTS. Not cheap but a great way into Logo. 
  • Examples of worksheets for projects involving input/output control - Flowol based.  Lighthouse, Pelican, Level Crossing.
  • Robots and computers activities from the Oregon Museum of Science and Technology (OMNI). You can program a robot to complete an online obstacle course and download activity instructions for programming a friend around a maze or a robot to tie your shoes. Other online interactives include a binary number balance activity, manipulating colour mixing and resolution, how computer pointing devices work, exploring passwords, and the history of communication technologies.
  • Low Life Labs: a robotics activity from the Museum of Minnesota to find out how "CAPTCHAS" tests whether you are a human or a computer. Explore how you read letters versus how a computer reads them. Look at human vision and how human brains use "pattern recognition" to help us understand what we see.
  • Lego robots activities aimed at 8-13 year old girls: how do we design a robot that moves quickly and tuns in a tight circle? Extensions explore how to program a LEGO robot to perform specific tasks, testing and retesting modifications to maximise the effectiveness of each design feature.
  • Lego WeDo and Scratch - Resources for using Scratch to control the Lego WeDo control kit (for 8-12 year olds). 
  • Education WeDo Resources for using the Lego WeDo software
  • Robotics Concepts for Kids from IBM: workshop materials that bridge the gap between computer science (programming using NetLogo) and engineering (designing and constructing a magnetic Braitenburg vehicle). The introduction uses a prepared presentation and film clips about artificial intelligence and the history of robotics. A computer simulation and construction of a mechanical vehicle that responds to magnetic force reinforces robotics as a practical pursuit. Suitable for Years 5 and 6.
  • MaKey MaKey: an invention kit from the MIT Media Lab that allows you to create computer controllers from everyday items. You can make anything into a computer key by connecting alligator clips. This allows you to hook up all kinds of fun things as an input. For example, play Mario with a Play-Doh keyboard, or a piano with bananas. Kids can turn everyday objects into touchpads and start inventing right away with materials such ketchup, pencils, finger paint,or lemons. £39.99 from Firebox.com.
  • Lightbot: control a robot by giving it commands using programming logic. A great introduction to simple programming with the more complex levels introducing recursion and conditionals.
  • Stencyl: a complete game-creation toolset based on Scratch blocks. Click and drag blocks to program your characters and choose from many ready made blocks.
  • Enchanting Scratch meets Lego NXT.
  • FlowGo Line Following Vehicle - sensing and control with feedback.  Ideal for KS2 extension and STEM project.  See Word doc at the foot of this page & video on Youtube. 
Data Logging example.sb
Graham Hastings,
Mar 28, 2013, 1:03 AM
Graham Hastings,
Jun 27, 2013, 2:08 PM
Graham Hastings,
Apr 20, 2015, 6:52 AM
Graham Hastings,
Mar 6, 2013, 11:51 AM
Graham Hastings,
Mar 6, 2013, 11:52 AM
Graham Hastings,
Mar 6, 2013, 11:52 AM