Term 3, Week 5

Jeff Symms | Deputy Headmaster and Head of Preparatory School

Year 6 and Canberra

I had the privilege to spend the first half of the week with the Year 6 boys and teachers in our Nation’s capital as they navigate their way around the educational and historical venues that the city holds.

Each year our full cohort travel to Canberra to round out their civics education studies into our country’s system of Government, the way that Democracy works and how they can ensure that they understand how to engage fully with the democratic process as they journey through adulthood.  This is a very important part of our students’ education as current events demonstrate.  A cursory glance only at social media to see uninformed commentary regarding Plebiscites, referendums, conscience votes and by-elections is enough to demonstrate that many of our citizens have very little understanding of how democracy works – what are its strengths and limitations and how to engage in the process productively and with understanding.  At this stage, although many Australians seem to believe otherwise, we don’t have ‘rule of the country’ by Facebook!

The boys were exceptionally well engaged in the activities so far.  They have been asking interesting and intelligent questions as well as undertaking thoughtful reflection.  On the now ‘traditional’, Mr Symms tour of ANZAC Parade, I was totally impressed by the prior knowledge the boys displayed but also the discussions they wanted to have about the various monuments.  At the National Museum, they were fascinated by the many artifacts which capture the Australian Story and the Australian War Memorial always evokes strong emotions in many.  It is very touching to see boys purchase their poppies and then spend time finding relatives listed upon the Roll of Honour.

Our local member of Parliament Mr Steve Ciobo MP, met with one group of the boys and provided an extra tour of Parliament House when he took them ‘behind the scenes’ including the Prime Minister’s Office and other areas not covered in the regular tour.  I thank Mr Ciobo for the time he spent with the boys in addition to the visit to the school he undertook prior to their visit to Canberra to answer questions about many of the issues the boys are interested in.

As important as the educational goals, the Canberra Tour also provides a  real ‘rite of passage’ for the boys as they begin their journey into adolescence.  We have high expectations of the boys’ behavior while away and each year they are so impressive in the way they step up and manage themselves with such maturity and responsibility.  As we often do, we have had many positive comments from members of the community about our boys conduct – from shop attendants, to tour guides and the hotel staff.

Year 6 of 2017 are representing our school well.

The Importance of Sleep

While in Canberra with the boys, waiting for the high speed elevator that would deliver us down from the top of Telstra Tower after our very cold viewing of the city lights, one of them asked me the question, ‘What time is lights out?’.  This led to a general discussion amongst them as to what time they normally go to bed at home, with some of them reflecting that they were often tired and probably weren’t getting enough sleep.

One of the boys asked, ‘Mr Symms, how much sleep do we need at our age?’   Fooling around a little I answered, ‘To work out the number of hours sleep that you need, you multiply your age by 6, then divide by 8 and add three’.

This of course was quite nonsense and just a throw away line to see who could do the mathematics most quickly.  The answer, given this made up on the spot formulae,  for most of them was 11 hours a night.  This was a lucky outcome as they immediately thought I was a genius for having this equation at my fingertips.  Also, they were interested to know, that to function at their best, they actually needed such a lot of sleep.

I did, finally, admit to them that I had made the equation up and it was just good luck that, mathematically, it seemed almost believable.

To follow up though, I did do a bit of research.  I have always felt that boys around the ages of 10/11/12, function best on a good solid 8 -10 hours of sleep a night.

Sleep, or lack thereof, has a real effect on our bodies and our brains.  The latest research on the effects of sleep on the brain’s capacity to grow and learn, are really interesting and for parents, important to understand.  One of the most important recent findings is that a chronic lack of sleep impairs the memory.  Scientists from the University of California at Berkeley have found convincing proof that a lack of sleep can reduce memory as, during a full night’s sleep, brain cells work to remove toxic compounds.   The capacity to retain information in our memory is impacted by the reduced capacity of these cells.  In turn, this effects learning, as a large part of our capacity to learn depends on us being able to build upon knowledge and understandings that we have previously learned and stored in our memory bank.

In the US, schools regularly use the table below to help guide parents in setting the right bedtime for their children.  Working backwards from the time they need to get up in the morning, one can work out the appropriate time for them to go to bed.  This demonstrates that around 10 hours is right for an 11 year old.  So my ‘on the spot’ formulae wasn’t too far off the mark.

Adults, take note, that we require a good 8 hours a night to keep our brain cells and memories healthy.


This week TSS Preparatory hosted GATEways, a group who provide extension learning opportunities for children who demonstrate gifts or talents within their learning.  We have been associated with GATEways now for 9 years and the quality of their presenters is exceptional.  They are all nationally recognized in their field and fly up from Melbourne and Sydney, in fact from all over the country, as GATEways sources the best presenters they can for each workshop date.

The theme for this visit is ‘That’s Unbelievable’, with the sessions focusing on literacy – reading, writing and speaking, with creativity at the core of each session.  Problems were solved, mysteries uncovered and a great deal of fun was had by the boys and girls from schools all over the Gold Coast.




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