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Age Range: 11-14 | 14-16
Duration: 60 or more mins
  • D&T
  • Engineering

Applications of programmable systems

Researching a programmable system from the past

In this activity students will research and create a timeline to learn about the development of programmable systems.

From factory robots to computers, smartphones to smart assistants, modern technology is reliant on programmable systems. By learning how these systems have evolved, students will gain a better understanding of how innovation happens over time. They’ll also learn an appreciation for the technology they use every day.

This is one of a set of resources developed to aid the teaching of the secondary national curriculum, particularly KS3, supporting the teaching in engineering or design and technology (DT).

Activity: Researching a programmable system from the past

In this activity students will work in teams to research details about one programmable system from the past. They will be asked present their findings and work as a class to build up a timeline. Students can then work independently using this timeline, plus other key inventions, to describe and explain patterns in the development of programmable systems.

Download our activity overview for a detailed lesson plan for teaching students about programmable systems.

The engineering context

Modern society depends on programmable systems, from industrial robots to smartphones. The systems of today are only possible because of past inventions. Engineers must continually innovate by enhancing and developing new systems to overcome challenges or satisfy consumer needs.

Suggested learning outcomes

Students will learn how use the internet for research for finding out more about programmable systems of the past. They’ll then be able to place these inventions in the right order in their timelines. Finally, they’ll be able to use their learnings to better understand developments in electronics, computing and materials as well as be able to explain patterns in the historic development of programmable systems.

Download our activity sheet and other teaching resources

The activity sheet includes teachers’ notes, useful web links, and links (where appropriate) to the national curriculum in each of the four devolved nations; England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

All activity sheets and supporting resources are free to download (including film clips!), and all the documents are fully editable, so you can tailor them to your students’ and your schools’ needs.

Download our classroom lesson plan and presentation below.

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Applications of programmable systems

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