Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Play Think Learn

October 23, 2016

“Computers help even young children think about thinking, as early proponents suggested (Papert, 1980)7. In one study, preschoolers who used computers scored higher on measures of metacognition (Fletcher-Flinn & Suddendorf, 1996)8. They were more able to keep in mind a number of different mental states simultaneously and had more sophisticated theories of mind than those who did not use computers”. (Bowman et al, 2001, p.229)




Why my kids never experience nature

October 29, 2014

Chop Wood, Carry Water

Dear Evan and Lulu,

I’m so sorry you never got to experience nature growing up. You see, the fact is parents have to choose between technology and being outside. Clearly, we chose technology. It is the same grueling decision that parents make when they have to decide whether they want their children to learn reading or math. There can only be one!

There were those 4 times we went camping every summer. The weekends we took the canoe (that we own) out on lakes throughout our beautiful state of Idaho. Oh! The trip we take to the ocean every year. A few dozen hiking adventures each summer. Skiing, snowshoeing, staying in yurts and cabins in the winter. Fishing, biking, and swimming when we can fit it in (obviously your technology addiction takes up most of your time.)

I’ve heard from hundreds of concerned folks since I posted this blog who…

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One of the most common approaches to teaching electricity is unsafe and misleading

August 17, 2014

BBIt is remarkable that, despite Computing being introduced in the statutory National curriculum Programmes of Study from Year One in primary schools from 2014, electricity and electrical safety is not included until year 4. Of even more concern is that when electricity is introduced it doesn’t refer to switching or digital electronics and it encourages children to be taught that all materials may divided into two discrete categories ‘conductors’ and ‘insulators’. This is bad science, it is a false dichotomy and in practical terms it is also a very dangerous assumption to make. Children should be taught about electricity much better and earlier.

Three Crucial facts about Electricity and Safety

  1. There is no such thing as a perfect insulator

Every material can conduct electricity under some conditions. While pure water is a poor conductor, dirty water can be a very good one. Even air conducts electricity at times as can be seen in lightening and the insulation qualities of rubber and plastics around electrical cables may be reduced through age and damp conditions.

“…there is no sharp division between conductors and insulators; insulators can be thought of as poor conductors.” Valkenurgh, p14)

  1. The Human Body conducts electricity

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) there were as many as 2,788 accidents involving electricity in the home every year. In 2002, 27 deaths were recorded to have been the direct cause of electrical injury, and 24% of all electrical injuries involved children under the age of 14[1]. When a strong current flows through your body it blocks the electrical signals between the brain and you muscles. In some conditions 50 Volts is enough to cause this ‘electric shock’:

  • It may stop your heart beating
  • It may stop you breathing
  • It may cause a muscle spasm that leads to serious injury
  1. Electricity + Water = Danger

The seriousness of an electric shock depends on the size of the voltage, which parts of your body are involved, how damp you are, and the length of time the current is flowing through you. From an electrical safety point of view, the bathroom is probably the most dangerous room in the home. There are special regulations limiting the fitting of electric sockets in bathrooms and electrical devices such as hairdryers, heaters or radios should never be used. Another major site of accidents is in the garden where electrical equipment should never be used in wet or damp conditions.

For a much more adequate and relevant approach to teaching basic electricity than found in most texts see:

For information on how to obtain your own Buzz Box contact:


Computer Science and the Blatchford Buzz Box

June 5, 2012

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’


Analysis of post-intervention results shows significant positive results

January 6, 2012

The analysis of the quantitative post-intervention data and test results has now been completed. This  analyses shows that intervention group membership had a significant effect  on the children’s performance on the Early Number Concepts sub-scale of the BAS II and on the Bryant & Bradley test of phonological awareness.

The study therefore shows that when the preschools were provided with software for use in the home and the preschool, along with the limited pedagogic support that families required to use it effectively, this had a significant positive effect upon some aspects of early learning in language and number of the children aged 3-5. We now know that:

Supporting Playful Learning with Information and Communications Technology (SPLICT) in the Early Years Really Works…

There were no significant differences in the effects of the intervention on boys and girls. The data analysis continues and April 27th 2012 has been set as a provisional date for a project conference in Swansea and the publication of the final project report. Given the evident success of the intervention the team will now be seeking funding support to create a pack of materials that may be distributed to support other preschools in encouraging the effective application of ICTs in the home learning environment.

‘Sustained Shared Thinking’ – why is that so important?

January 4, 2012

Sustained Shared Thinking (SST) was first identified in research associated with the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) project in 1992. The research showed that it was a form of playful interaction closely associated with effective early years practice. A good deal has now been written about the subject but as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words and a video is probably worth a million – so this is what SST looks like in practice! Apologies for the slightly poor quality – I think the video compensates for that in terms of the qualityof the pedagogy demonstrated in this High Scope video.

In practice, SST may also be considered, more obviously to be about simply talking with children, and it may be considered to be all about supporting them in developing their oral literacy and communication skills. In the early years we know that this has real implications for their cognitive development and research continues to provide evidence of the importance of early cognitive stimulation and the quality of the language learning environment at home and in pre-schools.

The EPPE statistical analyses showed that the mother’s education and the economic circumstances of the family were both strong predictors of children’s future success in school. But the study also showed that children benefited substantially when parents supported the child’s early learning in the home. Crucially, the research showed that these educational benefits were sometimes being achieved even in impovershed households where the parents had limited educational achievement themselves.  

What parents did was more important than…Who they were.

Previous US studies associated with Head Start have found that young children perform better in pre-school when their parents are actively involved with their home computer use. But the benefits of parental involvement were not observed among children whose parents were passively involved (e.g., watched the child use the computer). Computers provide a means by which young children may be supported in their manipulation of symbols and representations on the screen allow them to distance themselves from objects and this supports the processes of verbal reflection and abstraction and provides a rich context for sustained shared thinking.  A major objective in the development of The Land of Me software was therefore to maximise the software’s potential in these terms.

Siraj-Blatchford, I. (2010) ‘Learning in the home and in school: how working class children succeed against the odds’, British Educational Research Journal 36 (3), 463-482.
Siraj-Blatchford, I., and Manni, L. (2008) “Would you like to tidy up now?” An analysis of Adult Questioning in the English Foundation Stage’, Early Years, Volume 28, 1, pp 5 – 22
McCarrick K, Li X., Fish A et al (2007) Parental Involvement in Young Children’s Computer Use and Cognitive Development. NHSA Dialog vol 10 (2): pp 67 -82
Siraj-Blatchford, I., Sylva, K.,   Muttock. S., Gilden, R., and Bell, D.  (2002) Researching Effective Pedagogy in the Early Years DfES Research Report 365 Queen’s Printer. HMSO London

Baseline Analysis

December 18, 2011

The characteristics of the intervention and control group samples have now been analysed in order to check that the stratified random sampling that was carried out had resulted in two groups being constructed that were not significantly different from each other with respect to vital measures of attainment and child’s characteristics at pre-test.

It was found that there were no significant differences between children in the two groups at pre-test on gender distribution or results from the British Ability Scales (BAS II). Analysis of the schools characteristics has also been carried out including the percentage of children receiving free-school means, data from ESTYN reports (NFER progress in Maths and English and SAT performance in English, Maths and Science at level 3 and above), ECERS-E and ECERS-ICT. It was found that there were no significant differences between the schools of the children in the two groups according to these demographics. We appear to have been successful in constructing  a statistically valid ‘level playing field’ from which the intervention may be robustly evaluated.

Watch with Mother…and with Dad, Brother, Sister, Nan, Grandad…

December 4, 2011

The BBC launched their first TV programme for under 5 year olds 60 years ago in 1952:. It was called Watch with Mother. In fact one of my oldest memories is of watching the Flower Pot Men with my Mum. Yet research from the UK, the USA and Australia is now showing that many infants now watch TV almost exclusively on their own. The most significant challenge for early childhood ICT designers is now also often considered to be the challenge of providing the child with independent accessibility, so that they can play (and learn) on their own. Yet the consequences of encouraging such passive viewing that are identified by the research are stark.

One major study found that 10% of children who were watching an average of 2.2 hours of television per day at age one, and 3.6 hours at age three had attention problems at age seven. Many more studies show correlations between TV viewing and obesity. Yet it doesn’t have to be like that. Research shows that when parents watch programmes with their children, the children tend to watch less television, and they also gain more from the experience. The same principles apply to other ICT applications in the home, and Made in Me is showing that computer software can be developed specifically for the purpose of adults and children sharing the playful learning experience.

The key lessons to be learned from the case of television is in fact transferable to all screen-based media: where there have been problems, they have not been the result of the media or the technology itself, but the way in which it is sometimes being used.

See more on this in the Guardian newspaper here.

A is for Apple

November 26, 2011

The iPad is just what many early childhood educators have been waiting for. It’s highly portable, user friendly, touch screen operable interface has, like all the best ICT (Information Communication Technology), it has been designed very much with children, and those still in touch with their inner child, in mind. There are already early childhood applications or ‘apps’ available on the iPhone for free or a nominal fee and the Land of Me will soon be one of them. I’m certain we can expect an explosion of new apps designed with early years education in mind.

In the meantime if you get tyhe chance try some of these – and think about the additional advantages to be had from the 10 inch screen of the iPad:

Magic Piano – Me Books – Singing Fingers – iToyBoxThe Wheels on the Bus – MusicMonkey and the Crocodile Montessori Crosswords Cinderella3 Pigs PopOut! The Night Before ChristmasPocket Phonics SmackTalkLetter Writer Space +++

Read more about apps for the iphone and the ipad in the Guardian here from Friday 18 November 2011
…or in the Calcutta Telegraph or Information Denmark

Other recent Press Links: Time and Leisure EYE – TESNursery World Guardian – TES

Does the Land of Me Support Learning?

November 26, 2011

Read all about it here

Teachers’ Support Day (1st October 2010)

October 8, 2010

A big ‘Thank You’ to all schools that attended the Teachers’ Support Day last Friday. It was a very productive meeting that gave us the opportunity to share with the teachers the project’s progress so far and our future plans.

The meeting also introduced a series of suggested activities with ICT in the home environment within the next 9 weeks.

Booklets were handed out to teachers who will, in turn, deliver this information to all parents taking part in the study.  The meeting also briefly introduced teachers to the idea of ‘blogging’ and rss feeds.

We look forward to the next meeting on 7 th January where Prof. Iram Siraj-Blatchford will be giving a  presentation about the parental role in children’s early years education and development. In addition, we will be introducing the second part of our intervention programme.

Maria  (

My Dad Cooks: A good example of sustained shared thinking in practice

August 31, 2010

Archie Coffer is just two years old, and already he’s being nicknamed “the miniature Jamie Oliver.”  Along with his father Nick he stars in My Daddy Cooks, a video and recipe blog with an international following.

Playing together at the Computer

January 24, 2009

We are currently providing links and materials to support young children and parents; or preschool educators; or other family members; playing together on and off screen. We want to identify the best possible computer based games and activities to support children’s language development and their learning through play away from the screen. If you have tried one of the activities that we provide with a child we would like to hear from you. Tell us how the activity went, how the child responded, what you thought was good about it, and how you think the activity might be improved. We will try to find (and encourage the development of) more activities in response to your feedback. Please submit a comment below: