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Do school prize days really celebrate success?

TweetThis is the time of year when parents clear their daytime calendars and start attending sports days, end-of-year plays and recitals, and of course prize days. This year after our prize day there was a casual picnic with parents from every school year, and prize day prompted a lot of debate. The biggest question was “do they really celebrate success”? “If they all get a prize, what’s the point?” one mother mused? “They should just give a few important ones,” another suggested. I’ve been thinking about ways we celebrate success at home and school because of the #PGRaisingOlympians Celebrate Their Success Linky at BritMums. (Disclosure: this linky is sponsored by P&G.) It’s a fun and thoughtprovoking Linky challenge, with the opportunity to win a £250 spa day! As a founder of BritMums, I can’t take part, but it’s a very timely topic. In lower school, about 5 – 7 children receive prizes from each class, ranging from a maths prize to a companionship prize to best handwriting. When we were in lower school some parents I know would scratch their heads at the prize their child won – a hopeless drawer winning the art prize, for example. They chalked it all up to the teachers wanting to motivate children who were improving if not at the top of their game in a specific area. This year for the first time we attended the upper school prize day which culminating in all the year 6s getting a prize. Every child. Now, on one hand, every child makes a contribution and is important in their own way. But on the other hand, how valuable are the prizes if everyone gets one? Also, some prizes seem invented to suit the child’s personality. Surely the children do notice the difference between a top science award and one for “best attitude”? Surely that in its own way is demotivating and a little bit condescending, not to mention detracting from those students who have worked hard and improved throughout the year? Ironically, while Year 6 celebrated every success, Years 3, 4 and 5 awarded only a handful of prizes. This year my daughter, in year 3, didn’t get one and was disappointed. We talked about what she’d like to get a prize in – art, science and music – and how she could improve. Even before prize day I had been thinking about how to motivate my daughter as well as celebrate her true acheivements. As a result my husband and I have been tougher...

Let’s not get squeamish about science

TweetThe kerfuffle about Robert Winston’s lesson in Jamie’s Dream School, in which teenage boys look at anonymised samples of their own sperm, is making me laugh. The noted professor of Science and Society at Imperial College London has spent a lesson – soon to be broadcast on Channel 4 – having troubled teen boys look at swimming sperm under a microscope. “When pictures of the rapidly swimming sperm under the microscope were projected on a screen in front of the whole class, there was complete attention. Unsurprisingly, these rather unruly school students were engaged and excited,” he writes in an op-ed piece today in the Times (subscription required). The human body is fascinating…and not just in that leer-and-wink way that all this “outrage” implies. I had several marvelous science teachers from age 12 up who energised students with experiments, real-world knowledge and practical facts. The article on the lesson in the Daily Mail made me laugh out loud. “A Channel 4 source insisted viewers would not see the samples being collected,” it intoned, as if to save the concerns of its readers to whom – I hope – the prospect of primetime televised masturbation wouldn’t even have occurred. Really, such prudishness about the human body is pretty offensive in itself, as if there is something inherently disgusting or unseemly (or should I say, unsemenly?) about viewing sperm underneath a microscope. Kids in science classes often prick their fingers and do experiments to type their own blood. I did this when I was a preteen and it suddenly made life science not some dry theoretical lesson but an area of study that pervaded my entire world. And can we also just say, if you want to keep troubled teen boys from impregnating their girlfriends, showing them how easily that can happen seems a pretty good way to go about it. David Turtle, spokesman for the pressure group Mediawatch UK, should be ashamed of himself for his quote in the Mail’s story: “From our point of view it’s condoning a form of behaviour in a classroom situation.” Yeah, enthusiastic learning. Who wants that?...

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