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So What? age 7-11 After School Club - The Lion

The So What? After School Club
Navigation Primary School
Some of the children trying their best to look like lions! Truly terrifying!


This evening, the first So What? club of 2013 took place at Navigation Primary School in Altrincham,  Manchester.  I have been particularly looking forward to the start of this club for some time now as it is based upon a species which I absolutely love – the lion!   In addition to this, I also thought it was an excellent opportunity to write a weekly blog entry to keep you updated on how the children were doing in the club, as well as giving you a small insight into what happens during an entire 9 week So What? after school club.  Over the upcoming weeks, I will keep you informed about the many achievements which I am sure the children will be making during their time at the club, from the very first session to the very last.

After starting the session by announcing to the children (much to their delight!) that we will be spending this term learning about the lion, it was time to assess their prior knowledge.  In my opinion, this is one of the key elements of running a So What? after school club.  In this activity, I give the children around 3-4 minutes to write down, on a sheet of A4 paper, everything they already know about lions.  At the end of the club, I will repeat the same activity to assess how much they have learnt over the 9 or more sessions.  By doing this, I will gain an understanding of how successful the club has been, as well as knowing how well I have taught it.  This is paramount to fully understanding the impact of So What? and how it enables children to learn more about some of the world’s most spectacular animals, such as the lion.  

However, this particular activity did not go how I envisioned it would go.  In my opinion, lions are iconic creatures and I would have expected all of the children attending the So What? club to have had some prior form of exposure to them in the past, be it through a story, television, factual book or the internet.  Consequently, I was fairly confident that the children would be able to list a series of facts about lions to illustrate what they already knew about them.  Despite this, I was shocked to find that many of the children struggled to even note down any basic facts about lions.  If the club was full of children new to the activity, I could claim that it was because they were nervous about starting the club, possibly worried about making a mistake, or even because they struggled to understand what was being asked of them.  However, even some of my regular club attendees found it difficult to list more than two or three facts about lions.  I was taken aback to say the least!

Once the children had completed the prior knowledge activity, as a group we discussed what we would like to find out about the lion.  The children had many ideas to say the least.  They wanted to know what types of animals lions hunt.  How big is the average pride of lions?  Why do male lions commit infanticide?  The threats lions face and much, much more!  After a short discussion and mind map on the interactive whiteboard, the children turned on their laptops, accessed the So What? website, and readied themselves to learn more about lions.

However, whilst I would normally let the children immediately start their research in order to find the answers to the many questions they had just developed, I felt that it was necessary to inform the children of the lion population figures recently announced by LionAid.  I did this because many of the websites which I knew the children would be visiting online contained predominantly out-of-date population figures.  I felt this was vital to ensure that the children fully understood how the threats facing lions had impacted upon their numbers over the last 50 years.  Whilst I informed the children of the basic facts behind these new population figures, they hurriedly made notes on their research sheets.

After this, the children were away.  Before I could speak, they were head deep in lion facts and making notes with coloured felt tip pens on A3 sheet after A3 sheet.  Some preferred to work independently; others preferred to work in pairs or threes.  In order to ensure that the children were actually digesting what they had been researching, I occasionally stopped the group and asked them to share some quick fire facts which they thought that the other children would like to hear.  If the children used rather technical words or phrases, such as “trophy hunting,” we discussed its meaning as a group so all the children fully understood what information was being shared with them.  As each child or group read out their facts, their peers “magpied” (a nice “primary school” term for stealing!) any information that they liked the sound of and noted it down on their research sheets.  By doing this, the children became even more eager to learn more facts about lions in order to share them with the rest of the group.  

In particular, I was impressed by the fact that many of the children were extremely interested in the conservation of lions, with some members even pestering me to tell them all the names of the 14 countries which lions only have a possible future in so they could add them to their research sheet.  Further to this, the children were also keen to go on the LionAid website to learn more about the conservation of lions and how factors, such as “trophy hunting” and “disease,” affect their survival. 

The children were also keen to learn facts about the basic biology of lions.  However, I do have to point out that the girls within the group were particularly unimpressed by male lions, whom they quickly denounced as “cruel” for committing infanticide, despite my best attempts at trying to explain the males reasons for it.  This is something I will definitely have to return to as I have a strong feeling that the girls didn’t fully agree with what I was saying and left with a rather low opinion of male lions.

Before we knew it, the session was coming to a close and the tables in my classroom were literally littered with dozens of A3 research sheets, crammed full with interesting facts about lions.
However, despite the children’s obvious hard work and enthusiasm for the topic, I was also keen to ensure that they had not simply copied a series of facts from the internet onto a research sheet in lots of pretty colours.  I wanted to be confident that the children had actually learnt something about lions during the session.  As a result, and in the spirit of fun (in my opinion it was fun at least), I organised a last minute lion quiz to end the 1st session off and to assess whether the children had actually learnt any of the facts that they had listed on their research sheets.  Whilst I posed question after question to every child in the club, I was thrilled to quickly hear answer after answer, from why male lions commit infanticide to the average tenure of a pride male (or coalition of male lions as a rather enthusiastic member of the group announced to his peers before I had a chance to tell them!). 

At the very start of the session, each child had struggled to list even three basic facts about lions.  Now, I had every child in the club telling me about the various threats facing lions, telling me that there are only 15,244 lions left in Africa and telling me that lions only have a possible future in 14 countries.  I even had a girl shout “Chad!” at me in burst of excitement, when I asked the children if they could remember any of these 14 countries. 

What the children do not know is that I will be hounding them now until the next session in a week’s time, asking them every day the same quiz questions to ensure that all this amazing knowledge is retained.

Overall, I think it was a fantastic start to a So What? after school club which I know is going to end up being a huge success.  The entire one and a quarter hour session was a complete pleasure to teach, and it is so thrilling to occasionally sit back and watch a group of aged 7-11 children work so enthusiastically in order to discover more about a species which I love, and a species which I think desperately needs our help if it is to survive so these children can appreciate it as they too get older.

Click here to see 14 wonderful photographs taken of the children and the work they completed during Week 1


Matthew Payne

Posted by Chris Macsween at 12:08

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