Supporting WJEC/Eduqas A-Level Electronics

From September 2017, the WJEC/Eduqas (WJEC within Wales, Eduqas in England) A-Level Electronics qualification will be the only such qualification offered by UK examination bodies at this level. Following the changes from September, a whole host of delivery centres of A-Level Electronics, previously working to other exam body specifications are expected to make the switch to the impressive new syllabus published by WJEC/Eduqas to take effect this year.

Within component 2 of the specification for this qualification, “Application of Electronics” sits the microcontrollers topic. Here, centres are expected to deliver understanding to students in preparation for a 2 hour 45 minutes examination (40% of the overall qualification) covering, amongst other topics, the internal structure of a PIC microcontroller. It also covers how microcontrollers are interfaced and programed through flowcharts and assembler language to perform tasks and more advanced topics such as interrupts.

Over the last 12 months, Matrix have been working closely with WJEC to rewrite and re-launch a course we wrote for teaching of Assembly language for PICmicros a few years ago. We’re now pleased to offer the solution for centres delivering the new A-Level Electronics course from this awarding body from 2017. What’s more, we also offer Flowcode, which can be used for the flowchart part of the specification.

Our offering here comprises of our PIC development centre solution – the EB006 PIC multiprogrammer E-blocks board (including the PIC16F88 board and additionally required slow-clock) and combo development centre, see above. Each delivery centre will require one set of the hardware per student alongside the Assembly for PIC’s courseware. The courseware itself is impressive136 pages of online learning material and over 40 separate tutorials covering concepts such as binary and hexadecimal, PICmicro assembly commands, and advanced functionality such as sleep, interrupts and analogue-to-digital conversion. Interfacing the microcontroller to external devices such as LEDs, switches, LCDs and 7-segment displays is introduced via practical tutorials, often in an engaging real-world context such as a burglar alarm.

Our course is based around Microchip’s own assembler (MPASM) and uses real assembly code running on actual PICmicro chips. Although we enhance the learning experience with on-screen simulations, your students will be working with real industrial parts and software.

A unique aspect to this course is that the hardware can be run using a very slow clock (running at approximately 2Hz), meaning individual PICmicro instructions can be seen executing on the hardware itself without artificial delays being introduced. This greatly enhances the learning of microcontroller programming instructions and concepts without unnecessary complication of the code. Once the core concepts have been understood, a more usual clock speed of many MHz is introduced and issues around timing and delays are discussed.

In addition to the course text and tutorial files, a simplified IDE (Integrated Development Environment) is used in place of the comprehensive (yet complex!) MPLAB IDE. This allows students to concentrate on understanding the assembly code and their programs rather than getting bogged down with advanced concepts beyond the scope of this qualification.

Another stand-out feature is our “Virtual PICmicro”. Not only does this simulate an assembly program on the PC, it shows the internal structure of the PICmicro and how data flows within the device itself as the program is executed. It also shows the status of the two i/o ports, showing the data direction, its output state and allows the user to control the state if it is set as an input. The values of each internal register – both the system registers and the user’s own variables – are shown and can also be changed while the program is paused. Even the W register, ALU, Program Counter and Stack are displayed and changeable. A number of external scenarios can be “added” to the simulation, such as traffic lights, a washing machine and an auto-loo.

The Virtual PICmicro microcontroller within the Assembly for PIC microcontrollers course.

In 2004, Matrix won the prestigious BETT Further Education Award for its courses in Assembly, C and flowcharts. The judges concluded these products allowed” stimulating, hands-on learning” which “enhances understanding between theory and practice, and offers opportunities for summative assessment.” We have continued to improve our microcontroller programming products since this award and feel we offer the best solution available.

The course itself is available as a single user copy for individuals, or as a licences fit for delivery across as school or college network and can also be used for component 3 of the qualification, tasks1 & 2 (see below).

Task 1
A design and program task to create a microcontroller system programed in assembler language to solve an identified problem, need or opportunity.
Task 2
A substantial integrated design and realisation task to create an electronic system to solve an identified problem, need or opportunity.

For more details on our offering here, please do not hesitate to get in touch today, or call us on 01422 252380.

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