Taking advantage

Babi2.0 is off nursery with a fever, I’ve been entertaining her with my Kindle Fire, iPhone, and tv remote (as well as jigsaw puzzles, paints and toys, it’s not all tech!) She has mastered Amazon Prime kids shows, the Peppa pig painting app, a Frozen version of candy crush, drawing number shapes with Cyw, matching picture pairs with BenDant and hairdressing with TocaBoca. But my personal favourite is that she has worked out how ear-phones work! IMG_4376.JPG

Although I’m glad she hasn’t cracked my iPhone password.


What the 2015 party manifestos have to say about technology

If you haven't voted yet there's still plenty of time! Here's what the seven main parties have to say about technology...


Labour Party

  • All parts of the country to benefit from affordable high-speed broadband
  • Investment in mobile infrastructure to improve rural coverage
  • Drive innovation and build on strengths as a leader in digital tech.
  • Help for startups and freeze business rates for small businesses
  • Use digital technology to reform public services
  • “Strengthen the oversight” of surveillance agencies such as GCHQ and MI5
  • Require every company that works with the MoD to sign a cyber security charter.

Conservative Party

  • Free wifi on trains by 2017
  • Superfast broadband for 95% of us by 2017
  • “Ultrafast broadband’ as soon as practicable
  • Improved mobile infrastructure – 90% voice and sms coverage by 2017
  • Britain to be World leader in 5G development
  • £40m investment into ‘Internet of things’
  • £100m investment into ‘Driverless cars’
  • Creation of institutions such as; Alan Turing Institute for Big Data research; Royce institute for advanced materials;  National centre for aging science and innovation.
  • Financial support for startups and small businesses
  • Boost science and technology apprenticeships
  • “We must always ensure our outstanding intelligence and security agencies have the powers they need to keep us safe. At the same time, we continue to reject any suggestions of sweeping, authoritarian measures that would threaten our hard-won freedoms.”
  •  Equip police with new technologies, including mobile devices and body-worn cameras.
  • Invest in our cyber defence capabilities through police training and more volunteers.

Liberal Democrats

  • Superfast broadband for 99.9% of the UK
  • Build on the success of technology clusters (Tech City, Tech North) to support ‘fast growing businesses’
  • Channel more funding into innovation and technology centers in the UK
  • Boost technology talent through higher education courses and apprenticeships
  • Continue to release government datasets in accessible formats
  • Establish a Single Security Budget to include cyber defence
  • Digital Bill of Rights to protect individual’s online freedom

Plaid Cymru

  • Creation of a Welsh Migration Service to attract skilled internationals.
  • Minimum standard of 30Mbps broadband
  • Improved mobile coverage
  • Schools to teach coding and advanced computer technology development
  • No tuition fees in Wales for Science, Technology and Engineering subjects
  • Promote women’s access to STEM careers
  • Improve IT in healthcare
  • Improve cybersecurity to increase security a prevent cyber-attacks


  • Research institutions and private sector to collaborate
  • Support start-ups
  • Tax relief for video games industry
  • New Creative Content Fund
  • Increased talent pool for tech and creative industries through apprenticeships, free HE courses and post-study visas.
  • Support more rapid rollout of superheats broadband and 4G across Scotland
  • £1.5m to increase wifi provision in public buildings
  • More measures to protect against cyberterrorism but not at the expense of privacy


  • Help for start-ups and small businesses
  • Affordable high-speed broadband for all small businesses
  • Support the open and free flowing of information
  • Oppose ‘secret unaccountable mass surveillance’
  • Introduce a more ‘satisfactory law’ to combat malicious internet trolling.


  • Review the license fee.












Squishy Circuits

I’m shamelessly stealing this from my friend and colleague Jen Hughes. It was originally posted on the Taccle2 website – a project which helps teachers use e-learning in their classrooms.

I can’t wait to try it out, if you beat me to it please send photos!

I’m not sure this is actually e-learning but it’s the best bit of fun technology I’ve used for ages and at minimal cost.  Basically, it is about using play dough to make electrical circuits.

(Given a few days, I’m sure I can justify the e-learning bit by connecting my circuits up to an arduino board or make makey.)

This is what you need

  • Some conductive and some resistant play-dough (you make this yourself, recipes to follow)
  • Some sort of output device that will be activated by an electric current (LED are good to start with but could be a buzzer or small electric motor)
  • A battery. (our preference is a 4x AA battery unit delivering 6v but you can try other sorts)
  • Some bits of wire
  • A board or flat surface on which you can roll the play dough and build your circuit

Making the play dough

You are going to make 2 types of play dough.  The regular play dough is made with salt and conducts electricity so we have called that the conductive play dough.  The other batch is made with sugar and is less conductive. It is not, strictly speaking, an insulator because it does conduct electricity to an extent but it is far more resistant than the salt dough so we are calling that insulating dough.

Conductive play dough

I cup flour

1/4 cup salt

3 tablespoons cream of tartar (important – without it the dough goes slimy over time. Or lemon juice works pretty well if you don’t have any)

1 cup tap water

1 tablespoon vegetable oil (to stop dough going crumbly and drying out)

few drops food colouring

Mix the dry ingredients, add the liquid ingredients, including colouring, and mix well together.  Heat gently in non-stick pan stirring all the time with a spatula until it ‘sets’ into a dough.  Knead it on a board with more flour if necessary so that it has the right ‘doughy’ texture.

SquishyCircuitsResistant play dough

1 cup flour

1/2 cup sugar (caster sugar is best as it is less gritty)

1 teaspoon granulated alum (optional – it just acts as anti-bacterial agent. Small kids won’t try and eat the salt dough because it tastes nasty. This dough is sweet.)

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Food colouring.

1 tablespoon de-ionised / distilled water (you can use tap water – it won’t be quite as good because tap water is a good conductor)

Mix dry ingredients, then wet ingredient and heat gently stirring all the time. Add more water as necessary (preferably de-ionised) from a spray bottle if you have one. You only need to add tiny quantities at a time. Keep kneading the dough on a floured boat until it is the consistency of modelling clay

Squishy-Circuits-LEDs-1024x682Making circuits

Roll two sausages of conductive play dough. Connect one to each terminal of the battery.  Press the ‘legs’ of an LED apart and stick one leg in each sausage of dough. (LED are directional – the longer leg should be connected to the positive pole.  If the light does not come on, swap the legs around!)

Make simple switch by pulling a flap from one piece of dough and touching the other piece of dough. The light goes out (electricity will take the path of least resistance, which is to go through the dough not the LED)

Then try replacing one conductive sausage with a sausage of insulating dough. What happens?

Then try putting the insulating dough between the sausages of conductive dough and see what happens.  Try the LED in each sausage in turn and across 2.

Then make spirals, cubes, one sphere inside another etc etc. Can you make a squishy monster whose eyes light up? can you make a birthday cake for someone?

How much of the underlying science you explain is up to you and the age and learning history of the children.


For older children, you can connect an arduino board into the circuit.

Or try demonstrating how potentiometers work by stretching the sausage. What is the diameter and length when the LED goes out?

Take an LED of each colour and wire each up to a conductive sausage of the same colour and a battery to make 3 circuits.  Wind a cable tie around the heads of the 3 LED so that they make a triangle and hold them so that they are horizontal. Put a sheet of translucent plastic (tracing paper works OK) in front of the LED so that when you look from the other side of the paper you can see 3 overlapping circles of light (with white in the middle, obviously).  break one sausage (e.g the green one) and see how the light changes to purple.  Or stretch the blue one and see the light getting ‘warmer’ and yellower. Explain how pixels work.


Make 3 concentric circle of dough with the insulating dough in the middle. Connect the LED across the insulating dough rings.  Add more and more LED in a circle.   Talk about connecting in parallel vs connecting in series.


Absolutely safe. Worse case scenario is that a child connects LED straight to the battery, in which case it will blow and may shatter but this is unlikely.

Or they might connect the battery wires to each other – not dangerous but not good for the battery!

One last point, give the LED etc a wipe down after each use because the salt in the dough corrodes connectors after while.

Store the dough in a polythene bag and squeeze air out before sealing,

Thanks to AnnMarie Thomas at Maker Ed for some of these ideas. BTW – it is her daughter in the picture above!

Tackling tricky topics – Cyber Bullying

Cyber bullying is when someone uses technology like texting, online chat rooms and social networks to bully someone. Children may find it hard to talk about cyber-bullying so it’s important to let them know that they can talk to you about anything.

Top tips for broaching the subject;

Stay calm. Children need to know that you’ll listen without judging or threatening to deal with a bully yourself.

Conversation starters;

Who’s sent you a message today? What did you talk about?

How to deal with it;

Keep the evidence, find out how to take screen shots on http://www.take-a-screenshot.org

Don’t punish the victim by removing internet access or phone use as fear of this may prevent children from wanting to tell you if something is going on.

Do monitor internet access and phone use and take an active interest in what’s going on.

Don’t feed the trolls. As with all bullies, ignoring them is a good tactic.

Talk about why people bully others, bullies are usually insecure with low self esteem, if your child can understand this they will feel better about themselves.

Un-friend and block anyone who is causing distress. You can block callers and texters as well as on-line “friends”.

You can find lots more info about cyber-bullying on http://www.internetmatters.org/issues/cyberbullying.html

and http://www.childline.org.uk/Explore/Bullying/Pages/online-bullying.aspx

For these and other difficult topics spend some time with your kids looking at http://www.kidsmart.org.uk or http://www.childnet.com/young-people and remember that the most important thing is to talk about it.

Tackling tricky topics – Adult content

Let’s face it, no one wants to talk to their children about adult content. In fact if we were playing cringe-worthy-parent-moments top-trumps, porn beats them all. The trouble is, no matter how good our home internet parental controls are, you only need to walk around the magazine aisle of a supermarket to expose your child to an abundance of sexualized images. It’s something we need to talk about and I’d rather brave my inevitable blushes than let someone else talk to my kids about it first.

Top tips for broaching the subject;

Keep it age appropriate, if your children are very young, you can talk to them about respect for their own body and respect for other people. You can also reassure them that they can talk to you about anything.

Prepare yourself;

Think about what messages you do and don’t want to get across to your child. You certainly don’t want to inspire them to go searching for it but you do want them to know that they can talk to you if they have seen something they are worried or upset about.

Conversation starters;

The human body is amazing and beautiful and comes in lots of different shapes and sizes.

Relationships should be between adults who love and care about each other.

For more information and details of how to set up tough parental controls on computers, phones and devices go to




Preparing kids for unsupervised internet use

More of the content I produced for O2 Telefonica, you can find the published versions and more on the O2 guru bites site but I thought the Babitech and Pontydysgu audiences would appreciate their own versions…

The internet is an amazing place for learning, creating, playing and socializing for the whole family. You wouldn’t let your kids play outside unaccompanied unless you were confident they could cross the road safely and not talk to strangers and the same applies to the internet. We all want online experiences to be positive so here’s a green cross code for unsupervised internet use.

For Parents;

Turn on the parental controls by logging in to your internet provider and opting in to the safety options.

Turn safe search on for Google by going to www.google.com/preferences and clicking “filter explicit results”

Remember to do this on all computers, mobiles and tablets your child has access to.

Reassure children that they can talk to you about anything they are worried about.

Talk to your child about being a responsible digital citizen – they should take care of themselves and take care of other people.

Set a good example by being a responsible digital citizen yourself.

Check out www.cyberstreetwise.com for hints and tips about staying safe online.

For Children;

Don’t give out personal information like your name, address, phone number or email address.

Use an alias to make it harder for people you don’t know to find you.

If you set up a social network account (like facebook) make sure that all your settings are private or only shared with friends.

Use the “view as public” features to check what you are sharing with everyone.

Only post information and photographs online that you would happily share with your grandparents, neighbours and teachers.

Use a search engine to search yourself and check what information you are sharing.

Use www.safesearchkids.com to search the internet safely.

Be responsible for other people’s on-line experience – don’t post things which could upset anyone or hurt their feelings.

Remember that things you put on the internet can stay there for ever, every time you post content you create a digital footprint, other people will use this information to judge who you are.

Remember that if you share a photograph it’s hard to stop other people from re-sharing it.

Don’t give out passwords.

Make your passwords strong by using numbers and a mixture of capital and lower case characters.

Don’t use the same password for every site.

Don’t meet-up with anyone you have met online, talk to a parent or carer if anyone asks to meet you.

If you see or read anything which upsets you, close the page.

Talk to your parents or carers if you are worried about anything at all.

Do be creative, do ask questions, do explore and do have fun!

For more information about staying safe online check out www.kidsmart.org.uk/beingsmart/ and read through the great tips for parents and children on www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/be-a-good-digital-citizen-tips-for-teens-and-parents

A Plain Speaking Guide to the KS3 Computing Curriculum in England

I did some writing for O2 Telefonica at the end of last summer, you can find the published versions and more on the O2 guru bites site but I thought the Babitech and Pontydysgu audiences would appreciate their own versions…

A Parents Guide to the KS3 Computing Curriculum

Learning about computing is learning to think in a logical way. You need to be able to break a problem down into smaller parts, to look for and recognise patterns, to work out what the most essential details are and come up with a step by step method for solving the problem which anyone could follow and produce the same results. All of these things can be taught without any technology at all. You could programme your kids to make the perfect cup of tea!

If you have children in years 7, 8 or 9 in England, they will be studying the new KeyStage 3 computing curriculum. You can find the actual document online at www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-computing-programmes-of-study but unless you’re a whizz at computer science you might be left none the wiser.

Here’s a plain English explanation of some of the key words;

Abstraction is a way of describing something in simple terms. You could describe how a drinks vending machine works by saying, you insert money, press a button and the drink comes out. You don’t need to think about all of the internal processes or how the drink is made because they are not important. The same with driving a go-kart – you press the pedal it moves forward, you don’t need to include how the engine works.

Sorting means putting things in order, you could sort a suit of cards in order from Ace to King, if you wrote down the instructions for how to do this you would have an algorithm. The most common ways of sorting things are in number order and alphabetically, you could also sort things by height, weight, colour etc. Once your items are sorted it’s easier to search for a particular item. Imagine you lay all of your cards face down and tried to find an 8 of clubs without counting the cards, you could start by picking a card from around the middle, say you find a six, you now don’t have to look at any of the cards below six, if you keep splitting the pack you could probably find one card out of 52 in three attempts, this is called binary search.

Boolean logic is a way to design a simple set of instructions, the important words are IF, THEN, AND, OR, NOT. We could write instructions about what to wear in the summer – IF sunny THEN shorts. IF sunny AND hot THEN sunhat.

Binary is a way of counting using only 1 and 0. Each pixel in a digital photograph is represented by a series or ones and zeroes (or a byte), the pictures, music and videos we see on screen are the result of lots and lots and lots of ones and zeroes.

There are some excellent resources for parents, teachers and pupils on the following websites;