Picking the brains of the Boffin Squad

20th July 2007 at 01:00
Cartoon characters show every child is good at something

over-achieving pre-teens are aiming to save the world from the curses of underachievement, poor exam results and low self-confidence. Meet the Boffin Squad, heroes of a new website which helps primary pupils question assumptions about their own intelligence.

The site has eight cartoon pupils, all with different backgrounds, hobbies and degrees of intelligence. For example, music-smart Jess likes skateboarding, singing and playing the guitar. Word-smart Digger prefers watching documentaries, learning languages and writing.

Ian Fisher, a former maths teacher and creator of the website, hopesthe characters will help change attitudes towards cleverness.

"If you say 'boffin', everyone imagines balding men in white coats playing with test tubes," he said. "But you don't have to be a high-flier in maths or English to be a boffin. Every single child is a boffin. Every single child is good at something. But they may not know it because they don't score highly in what we label key skills."

An online quiz helps pupils identify their areas of intelligence and the career paths that may follow. They are encouraged to print out these results and show them to their teachers and parents.

"Teachers can use this to build a profile of their class," said Mr Fisher. "They can choose different learning styles to suit the pupils."

Online games encourage the use of different skills. The website also includes a guide for adults, explaining how teachers and parents can capitalise on children's strengths.

But Sue Palmer, a literacy consultant, believes that the Boffin Squad should be approached with care.

"It's a double-edged sword," she said. "There's a danger in giving children the idea they all have strengths and weaknesses. It gives them excuses for not being good at something. Then they don't even try and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. It's important to develop the whole child. You want balanced children, not ones who are only focused on one aspect of intelligence."

But Chris Davis, of the National Primary Headteachers' Association, insists that, used carefully, the website can be beneficial. "Learning how to learn is helpful and important for children," he said. "It's encouraging that they would take the trouble to go on this site. They're taking an interest in their own progress."

* www.boffinsquad.co.uk

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