The ICT curriculum in UK schools is set for a radical transformation and is set to be replaced with approaches emphasising the wider development of digital literacy and computer science (See).
Some concern has been expressed that girls may be disadvantaged by this. But I don’t believe this is the case at all. As I see it the move is a very positive one that should have been instituted many years ago. My own experience is that girls are at least equally motivated and engaged in electronic and computer engineering when they have the opportunity to develop their skills in the context of developing their own practical priorities and applications. While Terry Freemen was explicit in his concern to avoid engaging in any kind of gender stereotyping in his article, I think this remained sadly evident in his arguments about making the new Computer science curriculum more ‘girl friendly’.
In the 1980s I ran a primary school electronics club and to ensure equality of opportunity I ran one lunchtime session for girls and another for boys. The emphasis was on making circuits that could be used in a variety of ways for different purposes and it was in the context of this work that the Blatchford Buzz Box was first developed. At the time it was well received by reviewers including CLEAPSS, and it was marketed for a time with a supporting text “Nearly 101 things to do with a Buzz Box” by TTS. Despite the fact that it provided an alternative to approaches that teach children all sorts of false (and potentially very dangerous) ideas about electricity (e.g. that objects can be simply divided between things that conduct and those that don’t), it never really caught the imagination of teachers who were at that time struggling to deliver a heavily overloaded national curriculum. But the underlying rationale of the Buzz Box initiative was to support children’s emerging understandings of electricity and the text outlined what I believe is still a fairly novel and effective approach that combined the best available heuristic models that are based upon analogy ‘object orientation’ and systems approaches.
In my foundation stage classroom in the 80s my 4 year olds playfully made astable and bistable electronic circuits and switches for a variety of designing and making activities. This will have set the foundations for a computer science education that for most will have never been followed up. Today I have many more ideas for developing early understandings of domestic electronic and computer architecture as well as the art and craftiness of programming. If anyone would like to see where it takes us in developing good practice I’m open to suggestion for some classroom collaborations.
The ‘Blatchford Buzz Box’