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An opportunity to meet John Rendall at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park, Doncaster

News of our latest fundraiser!

This promises to be a superb afternoon and it would be amazing if we could see as many of you there as …

A journey to the old cobbled streets

 

Congratulations guys! What a fantastic achievement for lions!!

 

Jon, Martin, Guiseppe, Andrew and Grant of LeoLites

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Kids for Lions Blog

Bert and Alfie's blog.

Tuesday 8th July 2014

Bert and Alfie

Bert (left) and Alfie

"Over half term we were able to raise money for lions. We decided the best possible way to raise cash was to sell loom band bracelets. We sold them for 50p. Altogether we constructed 76 bracelets. We raised a total of £60 from the sale of the bracelets together with our pocket money savings. We raised the money at a stall on Willow Tree Road. We got a write up in the Messenger newspaper.

MORE DONATIONS WILL BE COMING SOOOOOOON!!!"

 

Note from LionAid:

Bert and Alfie are pupils at Navigation Primary School in Altrincham near Manchester. 

Well done boys! We are proud of you!

We are absolutely thrilled that you have worked so hard to raise some money for us to help save the lions in Africa.You have set a great example to people who are a lot older than you and you should be very proud of your achievement.

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 19:35

 

THE picture

 We're on their side!

 

On the 14th April, we were delighted to meet a wonderful group of 6 and 7 year old students in First Grade class at Thomas Haley Elementary School in Irving, Texas.

Using the powerful resource of Skype Classroom, we were able to connect with these children across the internet and give them a presentation on “The Catastrophic Decline of the African Lion”.


Mustofa pictureFollowing a PowerPoint Presentation, where we took them through all the major causes of decline in one of our most iconic and well-loved species, we engaged in a lively question and answer session with the students. Some of these 21 students had already worked on a project based learning activity about lions prior to the skype lesson where they had asked questions and then researched the answers in books and on the internet. As they still had unanswered questions, they were thrilled to take part in our lesson and in fact, all 21 students asked many good questions.
These young students were keen to spread the awareness of the heart-breaking declines in lions and the reasons for this dramatic fall in their populations. We would like to share with you now the pictures they have drawn to illustrate the things they have learned.Picture from Treyce

 

Click here to see the gallery of truly wonderful pictures from the First Grade class at Thomas Haley Elementary School.

 

 

 

If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, DONATE to support our work to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you 

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 11:06

The Young Pretenders

Friday 14th June 2013

The Young Pretenders

 

On May 21st 2013, the Duke of Cambridge, the Royal Patron of the conservation charity Tusk Trust, gave a speech at the End Wildlife Crime Conference, where he clearly highlighted the importance of educating future generations about the conservation of wild animals, and in particular, the illegal trade in animal parts.  

 

To quote the Duke directly, from his speech, wants to find ways in which his own foundation can “engage young people from all around the world…to help shape public opinion and to educate people about animal parts which are traded illegally.”  The Duke carried on, stating that “now is the time for young people, who believe passionately in protecting these species to speak out before it is too late,” and, “I hope that I might find a way of helping these young people to find their voice and to have a chance to educate others.”

 

I would first of all like to applaud the Duke of Cambridge for highlighting the vital role education could play within the United Kingdom in not only raising awareness of the dire threats facing animals such as the lion, but also the fact the Duke mentioned the importance of giving children their own voice!  I particularly applaud the Duke because he shares the same ambitions as I do, and this what I am trying to achieve through So What? and the running of after schools clubs within primary schools.  During So What? clubs, young people have been investigated and been given their own voice on topics such as canned hunting, the global illegal pet trade, overfishing, the Chinese traditional medicine market, the ivory trade, the illegal poaching of gorilla body parts, the shark fin trade, the trade in great white shark teeth, the bear bile industry, the drive in Taiji, Japan to supply the captive dolphin industry, the abuse suffered by killer whales in dolphinariums such as SeaWorld, the declining cheetah population in the Masai Mara,  the embarrassing badger cull and the over reaction of politicians and other officials with regards to urban fox populations and the threat they pose to people.  In the next academic year, along with the amazing support from charities such as LionAid, who give their precious time away from fundraising and campaigning to support us, So What? will continue to teach as many young people as we can about wildlife conservation.   

 

However, and this is a massive however, because you might have noticed that in the previous paragraph, I mentioned the role education could play in wildlife conservation within the United Kingdom, rather than will play.  This is because if the current government has its way (and I am under the impression it will get its way on this), children in primary schools throughout the United Kingdom, will not be given any statutory guidance to teach young people about wildlife conservation and the trade in illegal parts as the Duke of Cambridge and I want them to be.  In spite of the Duke of Cambridge’s plea, the only mention of wildlife conservation receives is through a single piece of non-statutory guidance recommending teachers to educate children about David Attenborough, Carl Linneaus and Jane Goodall.  Therefore, all of us concerned about this issue must cross our fingers tightly and hope that teachers around the United Kingdom will decide to use this piece of non-statutory guidance as a reason to teach their pupils about the conservation of wild animals.  As you can imagine, I am not overly hopeful about this!  If the current government gets its way, and the 2014 UK primary curriculum goes through its consultation period without any amendments (I am being told that it will), then our future generations will NOT be taught about the rhino horn trade, they will NOT be having their voices heard about the trade in lion bones to supply the ruthless demands of the Chinese traditional medicine market and they will NOT be able to debate with one another about whether it is right that politicians ignore the scientific consensus and public opinion and cull badgers.  

 

In light of this, I have sent letters earlier this week to Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, to Richard Benyon, the Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries, and to my local MP for Warrington, Mr David Mowat, highlighting my concerns regarding this matter.  I have also created an online petition asking Michael Gove to include statutory guidance on wildlife conservation within the UK 2014 primary curriculum, and within two weeks the petition has already received 504 signatures and counting. 

 

“Education of the next generation…is a crucial part of the solution,” the Duke of Cambridge stated during his speech – a worthy statement indeed which I am sure most conservation minded individuals would clearly support.  However, it must be stressed that in spite of the recommendations made by the Duke of Cambridge, and if the Secretary of State for Education and his team get their way, the education of wildlife conservation among young people is facing extinction, and with it, possibly “a crucial part of the solution.”  

 

For more information on the lack of wildlife conservation in the proposed 2014 UK primary curriculum, please see my last blog entitled, “A greenless primary curriculum” here

 

Matthew Payne

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 13:17

The proposal for a green-less curriculum

Saturday 30th March 2013

The proposal for a green-less curriculum

On the 20th of January 2011, the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, confirmed that the current government will be reviewing the National Curriculum in England.  Just over two years have since passed, and the government recently published the “National Curriculum in England: Framework document for consultation,” which sets out, for the purpose of public consultation, a revised framework for the National Curriculum.  Following on from this document, the government intents to publish the final version of the National Curriculum this autumn, from which it will then become statutory in September 2014.  In this blog, I will review this proposed National Curriculum for Key Stages 1 and 2 to see how it promotes the education of conservation and environmental issues among school children.

 

Before I discuss this further, I want to take you back a few years ago when David Cameron was elected as the new leader of the Conservative Party.  In his first speech as the leader in 2005, David Cameron began to set his promise of environmental action by stating that: “I want my children, your children, to grow up in a country where…climate change and the environment aren’t an afterthought.” 

 

 A year later, in 2006, the Conservative Party then decided to change its former blue, torch baring logo to a new environmentally minded one, involving a green oak tree.  The decision was made due to the negative association with the Party’s previous leaders, and a desire to be seen as having the capacity to move on with a modern approach.  Further to this reason, the Conservative Party also wanted to be recognised for putting “environmental concerns” at the heart of their manifesto.  In the same year, David Cameron also travelled across the Arctic Ice in order to highlight his promise that environmental action was at the heart of the Conservative Party’s new image.  “Vote blue, go green” had even become their mantra. 

 The Party has left the mainstream of the British public cold...... 

Since then, as Ben Caldecott stated in his January 2013 article, entitled “The Tory party needs a vibrant green conservation movement,” the Conservative Party has been on something of an “environmental retreat.”  In fact, Caldecott goes on to state that the Conservative Party has become “fixated on a narrow interpretation of what it means to be human, where economic self-interest trumps all,” and that the Party has left “the mainstream of the British public cold.” 

 This statement is further supported by George Monbiot who, following the recent Conservative Party reshuffle in September 2012, stated that:

“So that’s it then.  The final shred of credibility of “the greenest government ever” has been doused in petrol and ignited with a casual flick of a gold-plated lighter.  The appointment of Owen Paterson as environment secretary is a declaration of war on the environment, and another sign that the right of the party - fiercely opposed to anything that prevents business from doing as it wishes - has won.”

 

Taking this “retreat” into consideration, I was interested to see how the proposed 2014 National Curriculum promotes the education of preserving our environment and the conservation of wildlife in Key Stages 1 and 2.  In particular, I was keen to examine:

- Does the proposed 2014 National Curriculum allow children to research national and internationally based conservation and environmental issues?

- Does it enable children to discover how they themselves can assist in the conservation of endangered animals and in the preservation of our environment?

- Will it allow children to have their own voice heard on these issues, so they can become responsible, eco-minded citizens? 

 

Considering David Cameron’s pledge back in 2005 when he was elected the new leader of the Conservative Party (“I want my children, your children, to grow up in a country where…climate change and the environment aren’t an afterthought”), I was looking forward to seeing how the proposed 2014 National Curriculum, developed by Mr Cameron’s government, would help achieve such as worthy goal. However, taking into account the obvious “retreat” that the Conservative Party has gone on since David Cameron’s speech back in 2005, I had my reservations to say the least. 

 During the introductory pages of the proposed Curriculum, the initial signs are encouraging.  The proposed Curriculum states that it “promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society, and prepares pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.”  The proposed Curriculum then goes onto to state that it will provide pupils “with an introduction to the core knowledge that they need to be educated citizens.” Considering the threats facing many of the world’s species and deterioration of our environment, such qualities and promotion amongst young people to be “educated citizens” is definitely required if we are going to “turn things around.”  

 

After this, I focused on the Science section within the proposed Curriculum.  In my opinion, Science in primary schools is an excellent opportunity for children to learn about the conservation of animals and the preservation of their environments.  This is also supported by the proposed 2014 National Curriculum itself, which states that “science has changed out lives and is vital to the world’s future prosperity.”  It is important to note that for each Year group (1 to 6), within each subject the proposed Curriculum lists different statutory programmes of studies, such as “All living things” and “Reversible changes.”  Within each programme of studies are a few statutory teaching points.  Each programme of study is also accompanied by further non statutory notes and guidance which act simply as a series of recommendations.

 

 At first, in addition to specific sections in the proposed Science Curriculum on “Plants” and “Animals, including humans,” the most encouraging factor is the non statutory notes and guidance recommending that pupils should visit their local environments throughout the academic year in order to study different habitats and animals.  Sceptics will state that not all primary schools are fortunate enough to have a green space close to them, or have the funds spare to afford travel to one, but the proposed Curriculum’s intentions are worthy and I was happy to see that they have made such recommendations.  Furthermore, there is a statutory programme of study for the teaching of animals through “All living things” and “Animals, including humans,” what they require to survive, to reproduce and to grow, as well as non statutory recommendations where children are taught how to care for animals and how to safety place them back into their original habitats. 

 

Why is there only a single vague teaching point within a statutory programme of study focused on the changes within an environment?

As I worked my way through the proposed Curriculum for Science, from Year 1 all the way up to Year 6, it was not until I reached Year 4 that environmental change got its first, and sadly, only mention in this document.  In the statutory programme of study for “All living things”, the proposed Curriculum for Year 4 states that pupils should be taught to “recognise that environments are constantly changing and that this can sometimes pose dangers to specific habitats.”  In the notes and guidance that accompanies this particular programme of study; it states that, “pupils should explore examples of human impact (both positive and negative) on environments such as the effect of population and development, litter or deforestation.” A worthy specification - but that is it.  From Year 1 to 6, that one single teaching point programme of study, along with a single piece of notes and guidance, is the only mention that environmental issues receive in the proposed 2014 National Curriculum for Key Stages 1 and 2.  Once again, considering both David Cameron’ statement back in 2005, (“I want my children, your children, to grow up in a country where…climate change and the environment aren’t an afterthought”), and the comments during the initial pages within actual proposed 2014 National Curriculum itself (the framework provides children with “an introduction to the core knowledge that they need to be educated citizens”), it is baffling as to why there is only a single vague teaching point within a statutory programme of study focused on the changes within an environment, and a single accompanying non-statutory piece of guidance relating to the environmental education issues within in the entire proposed National Curriculum. 

 To put it into perspective, in Year 3, the statutory programme of study “Rocks” alone lists 3 teaching points and 4 sentences of guidance and notes.  Whilst I am not saying in anyway that the studying of rocks in not important, I just wanted to highlight how little coverage the education of preserving our environments gets and, in my opinion, such an important subject deserves to be covered far more than it is being proposed to be. 

 

With regards to the conservation of animals, the situation is bleaker. 

 From Year 1 to 6, there is no direct mention of the conservation of animals within the proposed National Curriculum at all, either within any of the statutory programme of studies or in the non statutory notes or guidance section.  One area of hope is in the non statutory notes and guidance for “All living things,” where it is recommended that pupils be taught about inspirational naturalists and animal behaviourists.  Those recommended are Carl Linnaeus, Jane Goodall and David Attenborough.  I hope that through these noteworthy individuals, particularly Jane Goodall and David Attenborough that schools and teachers will be able to educate their pupils about the importance of conserving our planet’s animals and the environments that they rely on.  However, I must point out again that there are no statutory requirements for schools to teach their children about the conservation of animals.   

 

Whilst the focus of this blog entry is on Key Stage 1 and 2, I feel it necessary, due to the lack of coverage within the proposed National Curriculum of both the preservation of our environment and the conservation of animals, that in the Key Stage 3 proposal, it states that pupils should be taught about the “efficacy of recycling,” and “the production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the impact on the climate.”  Both are worthy teaching points, but why are they not taught from an earlier age and on a more regular basis throughout primary education? 

 

I found no mention of the preservation of our environment...

After being disappointed with the Science section of the proposed National Curriculum, I moved onto the Geography one, hoping to find programmes of study containing teaching points which might relate to the preservation of our environment.  After checking through it three times, I found no mention of the preservation of our environment and how people are impacting upon its decline in any of the statutory programmes of study or in the non statutory notes and guidance.

 

"The preservation of the environment and the conservation of animals is simply an afterthought.”

So that is it.  The future National Curriculum, which will become statutory in 2014, proposes that only once in their entire primary education, in Year 4, should children learn to “recognise that environments are constantly changing and that this can sometimes pose dangers to specific habitats,” and recommends that these Year 4 “pupils should explore examples of human impact (both positive and negative) on environments such as the effect of population and development, litter or deforestation.” 

 In addition to this, the only way the conservation of animals is mentioned is through the non statutory recommendation that children could learn about respected naturalists and animal behaviourists such as Jane Goodall and David Attenborough.  Whether you believe this to be sufficient or not, I think it noteworthy to reflect upon on David Cameron’s promise back in 2005 once again - “I want my children, your children, to grow up in a country where…climate change and the environment aren’t an afterthought.”  I personally find it difficult to understand why David Cameron is happy for his Secretary of State for Education to develop a proposed Curriculum where the preservation of the environment and the conservation of animals is simply an “afterthought.”

 

Not all is lost though. 

 The proposed National Curriculum does state that “there is time and space in the school day and in each week, term and year to range beyond the National Curriculum specifications.” 

Whilst there are some schools which may be more flexible in how they manage their timetables, I know there will be some teachers who will find such a comment laughable, considering how difficult it is to manage the restrictions of a school timetable.  In my opinion, if we are going to educate our young people how to preserve the environment and how to conserve our wildlife, we are going to have to do it ourselves and without the support of the government. 

 

Further to this, it is also important to note that academies, which are publicly funded schools, have a significant degree of autonomy to deviate from the proposed National Curriculum, and therefore, in theory, may be more willing to include more environmental and animal conservation based work into their curriculum.

  It may be that groups promoting the environmental and conservation education, such as So What?, YPTE and Roots and Shoots, target these schools more specifically than state funded schools.  However, I cannot help but feel sad that I am having to propose such a strategic plan in order to educate how children about how they should preserve the environment which they rely on, and the conserve endangered animals such as the lion, whose numbers have dwindled to a lowly 15,000.

 

One way in which So What? aims to overcome the lack of statutory coverage within the proposed 2014 National Curriculum, is to encourage teachers to use our resources within after school clubs, and not within the curriculum as many other conservation education providers do.  Whilst So What?’s resources can be used in curriculum time, I believe that teachers might be more willing to take advantage of our free, downloadable resources if they feel like they are not having to comprise curriculum time within their school calendar.    

 

 "I know that many children actually want to learn more about how to preserve the environment and how to conserve threatened animals "

For me, the main frustration behind the proposed 2014 National Curriculum, is that as the leader of my own So What? after school, and as a working primary school teacher, I know that many children actually want to learn more about how to preserve the environment and how to conserve threatened animals. 

 For example:

  •  During a recent school project run collaboratively by So What? and Shark Aid UK, the children at the primary school where I work were horrified to discover the threats facing wild sharks and they even asked to do an extra unit of work in order to write letters to restaurants in their community, pleading with the owners to stop serving shark fin soup.
  • During my own So What? club at Navigation Primary School, in Manchester, the children were appalled to discover the threats facing wild lions, and the fate of many lions after they have been used as constant petting objects by naïve or misinformed tourists. 

 

 In my opinion, the future 2014 National Curriculum should propose more statutory programmes of study relating to the preservation of the environment and the conservation of endangered of animals.  These programmes of study should also be taught at least once in Key Stage 1, and at very least twice in Key Stage (possibly in Year 4 and 6).  However, I believe for it to be effective, they should be taught from Year 4 onwards in Key Stage 2.  In addition to the statutory programme of study, I believe that the future 2014 National Curriculum should propose that pupils learn about topical issues, such as the impact of the palm oil trade, the shark fin trade, the trophy hunting industry and the impact of the Chinese Traditional Medicine Market.  

 

 In addition to this, they should be able to investigate controversial issues in Upper Key Stage 2, such as why do the WWF support the hunting of polar bears yet run adverts encouraging the public to adopt one?  Why are dolphins captured in brutal circumstances to supply the “swim with dolphin” trade?  Should the United States of America and Gabon stop capturing wild chimpanzees and other wild primates for scientific research? 

 

Further to this point, a recent article published by the Imperial College London claimed that as a result of education, children can directly influence the attitude and behaviour of their parents towards the preservation of the environment and the conservation of animals.  This article provided quantitative support for the concept that environmental education, of which there is little in the proposed 2014 National Curriculum, can be transferred between generations and that is can also influence behaviour. 

The study was carried out on Mahe Island in the Seychelles, where environmental education has a strong history and where wildlife clubs are brought into the school system to educate children about the importance of preserving the environment and the conservation of animals.  

"The parents were more inclined to preserve local environments if their child participated in environmental education"

 In the Imperial College of London’s study, questionnaires were issued to all pupils and their parents based upon the local wildlife, habitats and the threats they both face.  The results illustrated that a child’s participation in environmental and animal conservation education not only increased their parent’s knowledge, but also their behaviour.  The parents were more inclined to preserve local environments if their child participated in environmental education.  Peter Damerell of the Imperial’s Department of Life Sciences, stated that, “school children in the Seychelles are fortunate enough to have a curriculum that emphasises the teaching of environmental concepts across a broad range of subjects.”  In addition to this, Peter goes on to state that in addition to the curriculum, “NGO supported wildlife clubs are present within all education institutions and represent an opportunity to undertake detailed and interactive activities.” 

In other word, by omitting environmental and wildlife conservation education in the proposed 2014 National Curriculum, the government are not only missing an opportunity to impact upon children, but possibly their parents too.

 

“I want my children, your children, to grow up in a country where…climate change and the environment aren’t an afterthought.”   I wonder what David Cameron would have thought of the proposed 2014 National Curriculum if he were to have read it back in 2005.  Such a thought is now irrelevant, but if the Secretary of State for Education’s proposed 2014 National Curriculum is finalised with no amendments as a result of the consultation period (I am pretty sure that there will be none), then we are, in my opinion, at risk of developing a country where people are “fixated on a narrow interpretation of what it means to be human, where economic self-interest trumps all,” and where climate change and the environment are an “afterthought.”

 

 I truly hope environmental educationists use such a possibility as an impetus to get into schools and teach children about the conservation and environmental issues, as it appears that we won’t be able to rely on the government to help us do this any time soon.

 

Matthew Payne
So What? Founder

 

 

Picture credit: http://bit.ly/YR2JIW

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 14:26

So What? Lion club at Navigation Primary School - Session 3

 
Learning more about lion conservation

 

After a week off due to the half term break, which provided a well earned break for myself and the children, the So What? Lion club at Navigation Primary School continued again on Monday 25th February. 

 

For this session, the children and I were lucky enough to have a guest speaker come and give a presentation to us.  The speaker in question was William Altoft, who has previously volunteered for the lion conservation charity ALERT on 3 separate occasions.  William had contacted me just after Christmas, asking if he could help out with So What?  After meeting William and learning more about his experiences with lions, I jumped at the opportunity for him to come into Navigation Primary School and talk to the children about the rewards and challenges when trying to preserve wild animals such as the lion. 

 

The children thoroughly enjoyed the presentation by William and they all learnt a significant amount about lions and the other animals they live alongside.  In addition to this, the children benefitted from William’s experience at ALERT, and in particular they enjoyed learning about the different stages in their release plan.  Furthermore, William also talked to the children about other conservation work carried out by LionAid and the Lion Guardians. 

 

Overall, it was excellent presentation by William which I know the children will have gained so much from.  In particular, it was great for the children to hear first hand about a conservation programme involving the lion, something which without the generosity of William’s time, they would otherwise never have been exposed to.  This is definitely something I am going to try and recreate in future So What? clubs, even if it means encouraging people working within the local community coming in to talk to the children about the conservation of species different to the one they are currently learning about.  In my opinion, it is vital that children learn first hand what it is like to try and conserve a species and various approaches which charities take in order to do so.

 

I would like to take the opportunity to thank William Altoft for giving up his time to come and talk to the children, and I look forward to working with him again in the future. 

 

Click here to see photographs taken at this Session

 

Matthew Payne
So What? Founder

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 20:41

So What? Lion club, Navigation Primary School, Manchester - Getting creative!

Last November, the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, released his plans to reform the national curriculum.  Upon the announcement, some individuals observed that it marked a significant shift to a more “formal curriculum,” and others simply asked “where’s the creativity?”  In a short, yet interesting article, Patrick Kingsley of the Guardian Newspaper asked the very same question.  In his article, entitled “Michael Gove’s national curriculum reforms: where’s the creativity?”, Mr Kingsley puts forward an interesting case study from the “unconventional” Lumiar schools in Brazil, where teachers design lessons based upon what the children want to learn.  As a result, the children can often end up proposing rather unusual topics, but the founder of these Lumiar schools, Ricardo Semier, states that through his schools, “we are trying to prove that by giving kids freedom, they will in the end be better educated.”    

  

Years prior to Mr Gove’s recent announcement, the previous government released the “Excellence and Enjoyment” publication which encouraged schools to “take ownership” of their own curriculum, and be “creative” and “innovative” in how they teach.  This was believed to be the first indicator of a move towards a much heralded “creative curriculum.”  The idea of a “creative curriculum” is by no means a brand new start to primary education, and many of the elements of a “creative curriculum” have been, and still are, practised by many primary schools, and by the teachers who work within them.  In fact, I am sure that if you were to ask any teachers that you may know, most of them would tell you that young people need to be taught in a “creative” way in order to capture their attention, as well as develop their learning. 

 

The “creative curriculum” is not designed to be impulsive, but rather reactive.  Further to this, the “creative curriculum” discourages teachers from following their lesson plans religiously, but rather, provides them with the freedom to respond to pupils’ interests within a topic and even to current events that may positively impact upon their learning.  In other words, if it is snowing outside, why not get the children to write poems about snow, rather than teaching them about the features of a report purely because you had initially planned to?  There are, as you have already probably gathered, many similarities between the ideas promoted through the “creative curriculum,” and those installed by Ricardo Semier in his Brazilian schools.   

 

As a teacher, I try my upmost to be reactive to the interests of all my pupils.  In fact, if the opportunity ever arises, I always try to teach them about current events which I feel could help develop their learning.  This philosophy is not just restricted to my role as a primary school class teacher; and I always try to do the same as the leader of my So What? after school club.  As you may be aware from this blog already, I am currently running a So What? after school club at Navigation Primary School, Manchester, based upon the lion.  As the pupils who have attended my previous clubs have already found out, I do occasionally move away from the So What? teaching packs for just a single session, and present a current event to them which I feel would allow the pupils to learn more about wildlife conservation.  Further to this, I am also keen to teach the pupils about any current events which I believe to be relevant to their lives and to their local communities.  By doing this, the children are then able to relate such events that they have learnt in other contexts as well, for example, to the relationship between cattle ranchers and jaguars in the Pantanal, Brazil.  Finally, I am passionate about letting children have their voice heard about either global or local conservation issues or debates, as I firmly believe that they can often provide a non-politically motivated opinion when it is often required.  For example, the impact children worldwide had on the eventual release of Keiko, the captive orca who starred as the leading role in the movie “Free Willy,” illustrated the influence young voices can have when they show the rest of the world how much they care about a particular conservation issue. 

 

As you may have already guessed, I recently decided to present a current event to the pupils of my So What? after school at Navigation Primary School.  In fact, my club is now in its fourth week and I had originally planned to deliver Session 3 from the So What? lion teaching pack as intended, and teach the pupils about the different habitats in which lions exist.  However, just after lunch time, in the hours leading up to my So What? after school club, two of the club attendees began to ask me several questions about foxes and the recent media coverage relating to the “attack” on a four week old baby.  The pair were extremely interested in the story and wanted to know more.  Consequently, I had a rare and rather unexpected “light bulb” moment.  I decided, in the spirit of “creativity,” that I would run a one-off session on the “issues” raised recently in the media concerning urban foxes, and get the children to put their own opinions forward about whether they should be culled or not to reduce the likelihood of another “attack” occurring.  I felt that this session would also be an ideal way of providing my pupils with an example of the complex relationship that people and wildlife sometimes have.  In addition to this, I believed that the pupils could use this case study again in the after school club when looking at the relationship between lions and people, and the pupils could also give their opinion on an issue which might be affecting their own local community.

 

To introduce the activity, the group of pupils looked at a series of media articles and reports regarding the recent “fox attack,” and listened to the points of view for and against any form of population control.  The children particularly enjoyed Chris Packham’s interview on BBC Breakfast earlier that day.  However, during the entire session, at no point did I share my own opinion regarding the debate.  I did this so not to influence the outcome of the pupils’ work in any way as I wanted them to give their honest opinion on the issue.  After looking at the various sources of information, the group had a brief discussion about the “pros” and “cons” of controlling the numbers of urban foxes via culling, as well as sharing their ideas for any possible solutions to the so called “problem” of urban foxes.  For their independent activity, the children were told to present their conclusion to the “problem” of urban foxes in any way they wished.  Interestingly, all of the children decided to present their conclusion as a persuasive poster.  You can see examples of the posters here.  I must also point out that all of the children who attend my So What? club are already animal lovers, and as you can imagine, they rather predictably sided with the fox.  However, this does not mean that they did not understand the frustrations of people affected by foxes in any way, or did not sympathise with the pain caused from fox “attacks.”  However, they agreed with the arguments put forward by individuals such as Chris Packham, and felt that there were more appropriate ways of controlling the population of urban foxes than resorting to a cull.    

 

Interestingly enough, a particular boy suggested an idea which I found to be rather innovative!  The young boy devised a plan where young volunteers (aged 16+ and interested in wildlife), would lead their own local “Fox Watch” groups in order to prevent any further urban fox “attacks” from occurring.  The young boy’s plan was for a “Fox Watch” group to inspect the storage of rubbish in urban areas where foxes are reportedly living in large numbers, and make recommendations to local people on how they can store their rubbish so not to attract foxes.  Further to this, the young boy suggested that a “Fox Watch” group could also carry out regular litter picking sessions so to reduce the chances of foxes feeding from any discarded scraps of food.  In addition to this responsibility, the young boy also suggested that when a fox was spotted in an urban area, the “Fox Watch” group could patrol the neighbourhood and ensure that all houses and other buildings are secure, and make recommendations to local people how to keep their houses “fox proof.”  The Fox Watch group could also monitor the movement of the fox/es and learn from its behaviour at the same time.  Whilst the idea is obviously basic, I was impressed by the young boy’s willingness to develop a realistic plan in order to manage the considerations of both people and the wildlife they live alongside.   

 

Even though I would love to have taught the session I had initially planned from the So What? lion teaching pack, I firmly believe that when a wildlife related current event occurs, such as the one regarding urban foxes, teachers or volunteers running a So What? club should take a risk and be “creative.”  Often, it is during these unplanned sessions that children can often develop new and innovative strategies, produce work of the highest calibre, and see things from a point of view which they had never considered before.  I firmly believe that no matter what you have previously planned to do, it is always worth the risk to be “creative” and react to current events.    As Ricardo Semier of Brazil stated, “by giving kids freedom, they will in the end be better educated.”  If we, as educators of wildlife conservation, give kids more freedom and be reactive to current events, particularly those relevant the young people’s local community, they will be better educated.  In the end, the animals which we care so much for and work so tirelessly to protect, will only benefit from this in the long-run.

 

Matthew Payne
So What? 

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 13:40

So What? age 7 -11 after school club - The Lion : Session 2

  “Which other wildlife does the lion live alongside?”

 

As you may have read in my previous blog entry, I recently started a So What? after school club at Navigation Primary School in Altrincham, Manchester.  This particular club is based upon the lion, and I thought it would provide an excellent opportunity to write a regular blog entry to give you an insight into what happens during an entire 9 week So What? after school club.  This blog entry is based upon the second session from the So What? age 7-11 lion teaching pack, entitled, “Which other wildlife does the lion live alongside?” which I completed with the children at Navigation Primary School on Monday 28th January 2013 and Monday 4th February 2013. 

 

Usually, a single So What? after school club session only takes just over an hour to complete.  However in this case, more time was actually needed.  This is due to the fact that by the end of last week’s club on Monday 28th January, all the children had unfortunately failed to complete the main task that they had been set for Session 2.  Rather than being disappointed by this, I quickly realised last week’s session at Navigation Primary School actually illustrated an important point.  As most teachers will confess, not every lesson goes to plan and sometimes, they are complete disasters.  Whilst the initial session in question was not a disaster in any way, it did not go entirely to plan.  Despite this, I actually think it turned out to be a good thing, and I will explain why I think this in a moment.  In my opinion, it is important to illustrate that sometimes, a So What? after school club does not always go as intended, and that sometimes the children require more time, or further opportunities, in order to achieve the objective/s of the session.  

 

Interestingly, just over a week ago, the club at Navigation Primary School actually started out rather positively.  The initial session started with the children readily recapping the facts they had learnt from Session 1 - “What is a lion?”  In fact, I was particularly impressed with how many of the children remembered LionAid’s recently published population figures which I had shared with them.  All children knew that the current population of lions in Africa was around the 15,000 mark (a child was eventually able to correctly recall the exact figure of 15.244 after many attempts), and after a little discussion, the children were able to recount the fact that out of 49 African countries, the lion was extinct in 25, virtually extinct in 10, and has a possible future in only 14.  Again, as mentioned briefly in my last blog, a particular girl took great delight in screaming the country of “Chad!” at me when I asked the children if they could remember the names of any of the 14 countries, much to the rest of the group’s amusement.  I do not know why they find this extremely funny, but for some unbeknown reason, they do! Nevertheless, I did not mind too much as after all, they now all know the fact that lions possibly have a future in Chad!  The children were also able to recount many other interesting facts, such as a lion’s average size, life expectancy, average litter size, scientific name etc, as well as more detailed behaviour such as infanticide and the role an adult male lion plays within a pride.  However, out of this discussion, it was the fact that so many of the children were able to recount the various threats facing lions that pleased me the most.  I am also delighted that these threats seem to have remained embedded in the children’s knowledge since Session 1 and I will continue to reinforce this as the club proceeds.

 

After this introductory recap, the children were put into pairs and set the “challenge” of researching the names of as many animals as they could which live alongside the lion in both Africa and the Gir Forest in India, in just under 15 minutes.  In addition to this, the children had to then categorise these animals into a simple carroll diagram.  The carroll diagram asked the children to categorise each animal as either a “producer” or a “consumer,” and then as “lion prey” or not “lion prey.”  This task required the children to find an animal which lives alongside the lion using the internet, any available books within our school library and their prior knowledge.  The children then had to apply the same research methods to discover where they needed to categorise the animal in their carroll diagram.

 

Despite me allocating 15 minutes for this activity, which had previously proven to be a sufficient amount of time (the children always view this researching task as a competition and therefore work rather quickly to beat one another), this time the activity actually took much longer.  This can be explained by two simple reasons.  To begin with, the children struggled to remember what “consumers” and “producers” are, something which I had never previously found to be an issue, and something which I had never needed to take such an amount of time from a session to explain before.  In addition to this explanation, the children also ended up asking me many more questions than previous groups had done before them.  In fact, the children asked so many questions about the animals they were researching, that on some occasions we had to stop the entire group in order to discuss the answers further.  The majority of these questions were based around whether certain animals should be classified as “lion prey” or “not lion prey.”  For example, some of the children found that lions sometimes kill cheetahs of all ages in order to reduce competition for food, and not necessarily because lions regard them as “prey.”  After a little discussion, it was decided that the cheetah should be categorised in the “consumer” and “not lion prey” section, with an * next to its name in order to provide these further details.  Further to this, certain animals also needed to be categorised again, in different sections, due to the fact that the children had “presumed” that lions never view them as “prey,” e.g. the elephant and the giraffe.

 

Due to the fact that this part of the lesson nearly took twice as long as it usually does, the children did not therefore have sufficient time to complete an entire fact file about an animal which lives alongside the lion.  In some circumstances, it is often necessary to “quicken up” the progress of a lesson in order to achieve its objective, and in this case, I could have simply stopped the children researching after 15 minutes and moved onto the main task of making a fact file.  However, in addition to the fact that I knew I could allow the children the time to complete their fact files during the club a week later, I also felt that by “quickening up” them up, I would be preventing the children from discovering more about the animals that live alongside the lion for themselves.  One of the key aspects of the So What? teaching packs is that the children are provided with many opportunities to discover information for themselves, and not simply spending a entire session dictating as the teacher stands at the front of the classroom listing a series of facts.  In my opinion, extending the time for the children to complete the activity was the correct choice to make and I believe that they learnt more about the animals which live alongside the lion as a result. 

 

After the children had finished the researching activity in the initial session, they decided on one animal which they wanted to make a fact file about.  In order to find more facts about a particular animal, the children used the internet and available books for research.  For this research, the children could choose to continue working in pairs, or alternatively, work by themselves.  However, when it came to actually creating the fact file, the children would be asked to complete the activity independently.  The animals chosen by the children were; the elephant, the zebra, the black rhino, the cheetah and the hippo.  However, because the children did not have time to complete their fact files in this session, they spent the 3rd week of the club (Monday 4th February) completing this activity.  As a result, the club will now need to be moved back a week in order to complete all 9 sessions. See the images produced for the Fact File here.

 

At the end of both weeks, the children and I discussed the fact that in order to save the lion, we must also protect the animals which it lives alongside, and in particular, those in which it “preys upon.”  For example, the children were able to link the importance of the maintaining wildebeest populations, as well as the grass they thrive on, as an integral part of protecting East African lions.  Further to this, we also ended the Session 2 at Navigation Primary School by quickly recapping the facts the children had learnt about the lion so far and the threats they face in the wild.  Despite the fact that all the children did not complete a full fact file as detailed in the So What? teaching pack, I still view this session as a triumph!  Through my observations, I know that the children not only learnt more facts about some of the animals which live alongside the lion, but they also discovered that these animals must also be protected if we are going to be able to appreciate the majesty of the lion in years to come.  In my opinion, despite the difficulties, this is what made Session 2 at Navigation Primary School a success.

 

Matthew Payne

 

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 11:52

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

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 12:08

Misconceptions: What do school children aged 7-11 really think about sharks?

During my previous So What? blog entry, I recounted a series of incidents which led me to believe that some school children are still developing serious misconceptions about sharks.  This included the belief that UK waters do not contain any shark species at all, and the perception that sharks still present a real threat to the well being of people around the world. 

 

My initial blog was based upon the 30 school children whom I teach at Navigation Primary School, Manchester.  However, I was interested to find out more about what some of the other school children at Navigation Primary School thought about sharks.  More specifically, I wanted to find out whether they too viewed sharks as a real danger to human life?  Did they think that sharks could not be found in UK waters?  Did they know of any threats facing sharks in the wild?

 

Therefore, I decided to carry out a small-scale questionnaire at Navigation Primary School, Manchester, to investigate further what the school children there really thought about sharks.  Through the questionnaire, I wanted to find out: 

 

• What did the school children really think about sharks?
• How knowledgeable were the school children about sharks?
• In particular, were the school children aware of the threats facing sharks in the wild?

 

After analysing the results from the questionnaire, I believe that these following points are worth highlighting. 

 

• “Scary” accounted for 10% of the words generated by the school children to describe sharks.
• 47% of the words generated to describe sharks were deemed “unfavourable” words.  Whilst this might not seem a particularly large amount, it is noticeable when you compare it to the fact that only 8% were deemed “favourable.” 
• The number of people kids thought were killed by sharks annually ranged from 0-51,000,000.
• Out of 5 possible choices, sharks were deemed to animal likely to pose the most danger to humans.
• Out of 137 school children, 62% did not think sharks could be found in waters surrounding the United Kingdom. 
• A surprising number of school children listed the use of shark fins as a major threat to sharks. 
• The school children were able to list a large number of global shark species.  Unsurprisingly, the great white shark made up a large percentage of the children’s answers. 

 

In my opinion, the questionnaire’s results have provided some interesting insights into what school children, aged 7-11, really think about sharks.  In addition to this, I think it illustrates the importance of educating people about the true nature of animals from an early age. 

 

Whilst the school children thought of sharks in a negative way and did not know that they occur in the seas close to where they live, the school children did demonstrate a good understanding of what shark species occur around the world and the major threats facing them.  This division in knowledge, good in some areas, not so good in others, could possibly be due to the lack of specific education these school children receive about the natural world close to them versus what they absorb from TV providing information about nature from the rest of the world.  The results show that whilst school children have a great interest in nature, could it be that they need to learn more about what is happening in their backyard?

 

To read the full report documenting the results from the questionnaire, see the News/Blog section within the So What? website

 

Matthew Payne

 

Picture credit: http://bit.ly/Uk2OWK

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 10:43

Misconceptions

Tuesday 1st January 2013

Misconceptions

Christmas Day has now passed, my celebratory hat and used wrapping paper have been put in the correct bin according to council regulations and I have definitely eaten far more than was good for me.  So, I have dragged myself out of my overly comfortable chair, put down my copy of “Lions of Moremi” by Dr. Pieter Kat, and decided that it is time that I write a new So What? blog entry before I indulge myself in more chocolates and therefore, clock up more time needed at my local gym trying to work it off!

 

Over the Christmas period, I was delighted to finally complete the new age 7-11 great white shark So What? teaching pack, which is now available to download from the So What? website.  I am particularly thrilled about this because, along with felids, I am a stark, raving mad great white shark fan.  As I mentioned in my first ever blog entry, I spent many hours as a child creating my own fact files about various different animals, and in particular, many of these hours were spent copying facts about great white sharks into small paper booklets.  Years later, I am delighted to be able to share my shark infested enthusiasm with others, and I hope to one day inspire at least one youngster to purse a worthwhile career in trying to protect the magnificent great white shark. 

 

Further to this, I also hope that the new teaching pack may help eradicate some of the glaring misconceptions some young people have about the great white and other species of sharks.  During my PGCE in 2007, when I was training to be a primary school teacher, misconceptions were definitely “in-vogue,” particularly in the teaching of mathematics.  I was warned to always point out to my pupils the misconceptions of the subject area I was teaching them – and no other subject area in mathematics received more attention than that of the dreaded decimal point!  It was used as a model for “what not to do!” during a mathematics lesson.  Trainee teachers would joke nervously among themselves about the thought of teaching decimal points in front of a menacing, merciless Ofsted inspector!  Up and down the country, educational training centres used the decimal point to warn prospective teachers, such as myself that you always teach your children about this misconception correctly!  My tutors would bark, “always address the misconception, yet what ever you do, never teach it incorrectly!”  I was trained to ignore everything that my very own primary school teachers had taught me about the decimal point!  I was even told not to believe what my very own mother had told me about the decimal point – in the words of my tutor “It was all lies!”  The decimal point almost became the 2007 PGCE trainee teachers’ official anthem!  It felt as if every morning, we should have marched into university chanting:

 

“You never move the decimal point – you always move the number!”  
“You never move the decimal point – you always move the number!”  
“You never move the decimal point – you always move the number!”  


And so on and so on…

 

 

However, despite the passionate efforts of my university tutors, education is very much like the fashion world.  Trends are changing constantly and they can be difficult to keep up with.  (Educational trends, as you can imagine, are linked heavily to which political party are in government – and if you are sat wondering what the current trend is, I believe it is the teaching of grammar, spelling, handwriting and punctuation)  As the years passed by, it seemed that the poor decimal point was being left out in the rain, forgotten about and replaced by fresher, newer trends.  As the student mentor at the primary school where I work, it is my responsibility to mentor trainee teachers who come into school on placement and to observe their progress.  However, more recently I have found myself listening in horror during such observations as more and more trainee teachers are uttering the unforgiveable words “it’s easy, you just move the decimal point!!”  When I ask for an explanation as to why they are teaching children this misconception incorrectly, assuming to myself that they did not listen during this part of their training, or perhaps that they were absent on that crucial day, imagine my disbelief when they reply “oh, we were never taught that at university!” Their punishment I hear you wonder for such a crime? Marching up and down the playground whilst chanting:

 

“You never move the decimal point – you always move the number!”  
“You never move the decimal point – you always move the number!”  
“You never move the decimal point – you always move the number!”  

 

Despite the ever-changing trends in education, I believe the teaching of misconceptions to be vitally important and whilst it is not always possible for educators to prevent them from coming to fruition, it is our duty to ensure they are eradicated as soon as possible.  From my experience, no other group of animals is riddled with more misconceptions than the shark and this is what I hope to change as a result of So What?

 

A classic example of this is the threat posed by sharks.  Some young people (and some adults) still believe that sharks are deadly predators that spend all their time searching the oceans, looking for surfers or swimmers to attack.  Whilst the “Jaws” effect is reportedly lessening as people are becoming more educated about sharks, I have found that it still might be a very real misconception amongst some children today.

 

In fact, only two weeks ago, when I attended a writing course being held at a local school, I was faced with an entire wall display based around the children’s novel “Shark in the Park” by Nick Sharratt, littered with poems written by the pupils about how dangerous the shark in the park was before it mysteriously disappeared.  Whilst “Shark in the Park” is a harmless children’s book, designed in particular to teach the “ar” phoneme to Year 1 and 2 pupils, it is interesting to consider what possible impact such texts, and the subsequent work they motivate, have upon the image of animals such as sharks.  Moreover, it is interesting to consider the impact such work would have upon the perceptions children form of sharks in later life as well. 

 

Approximately a month prior to this incident, I had decided to test the beliefs held by the Year 5 and 6 pupils in my class about the threats posed to people by sharks.   Consequently, I set them a 15 minute challenge.  Before the timer started, I gave each pupil in my class a list of thirty different worldwide causes of mortality.  These included causes such as obesity, hurricanes, vending machines, falling out of bed and of course shark attacks.  In 15 minutes, the pupils were asked to rank each cause of mortality, starting with the most common form worldwide down to the least common form.  I was interested to see how much of a threat the pupils in my class believed sharks to be to people around the world, despite the fact that as far as I knew, none of my pupils had ever been involved in, or had ever witnessed, a shark attack themselves.  Once the challenge had finished and I analysed the results, I was surprised to find out that every pupil in my class ranked sharks in the top 5 most common causes of mortality worldwide; over half the class put them in the top 3, and 5 had ranked them in first position.  Imagine their surprise when, afterwards, I told them that vending machines posed more of a threat to their well being than sharks!  Whilst this was only a single exercise with a single class of 30, I do feel that it illustrates that some children may still be developing the misconception that sharks are viscous man eaters, spending their entire lives roaming the ocean in search of people.  Obviously, more extensive investigation is needed to fully analyse the true perception young people in United Kingdom have of sharks, but I think my exercise proves that the results would make interesting reading. 

 

It is difficult to decipher exactly where the misconceptions held by my Year 5 and 6 pupils’ of the threat posed by sharks have come from, particularly considering the fact that there has never been a true “shark attack” in Britain, but rather a series of “shark encounters.”   A classic example of this being the “attack” on Hamish Currie in Ayrshire late August 2012, where a porbeagle bit through his shoe and apparently attacked his boat.  In reality, Mr Currie, who labelled the shark afterwards as a “bad, bad fish,” had hauled the porbeagle out of the water in order to tag it, and the shark, unsurprisingly, wasn’t too keen on this and bit his foot.  Are misconceptions about the threat posed by sharks still being derived from “encounters” such as this? Could misconceptions about sharks develop as a result of these stories being passed down from parents or carers to their children?  Do parents and carer unknowingly pass on their own beliefs about sharks to their children?  Alternatively, do young people themselves develop an over-exaggerated belief that sharks pose them a threat from reading books, watching films such as “Jaws” and “Deep Blue Sea,” or possibly by interpreting information incorrectly from the internet?  Whilst in most circumstances, the development of such a misconception is not something that as educators we always can control or prevent, we can ensure that through education programmes such as So What? after school clubs, that we eradicate such misconceptions and teach children about the true nature of animals, particularly predators such as the great white shark. 

 

Interestingly, the challenge I set my Year 5 and 6 pupils also raised a further misconception which I had not been expecting.  As the children were packing up their pens and tidying their tables, I over heard one pupil saying to another that, “wouldn’t it be cool if you got sharks here.”  Giving the pupil the benefit of the doubt, I assumed that they did not mean that it would be good to have sharks in the school building and that they might be referring to British waters. 


“Yeah it would!” the other pupil replied.  Before rectifying the situation, I decided to see whether this was another common misconception among the children in my class, or whether it was a misunderstanding simply isolated to two individual children.  To begin with, rather than asking the pupils in my class whether sharks are found in British waters, I decided to repeat the initial comment made - “Wouldn’t it be cool if you got sharks here.”  I did this because in my experience, I have found that if you give children a simple “yes” or “no” option, your results are not always a true reflection of what they really know or what they really believe.  In some circumstances, the pupil will choose an option based on what their peers are doing.  Further to this, the pupils in my class, after years of schooling, are suspicious of such questions, thinking more about what the right answer might be more than what they believe or what they know.  After I repeated the pupil’s comment, I simply orchestrated a debate based around the statement.  I was shocked to see that no one questioned the fact that we might have sharks in British waters.  In addition to this, my Year 5 and 6 class also contains a few pupils who have attended my previous So What? clubs, and are from my perspective, relatively knowledgeable about animals for their age.  Still no one questioned the statement.  Again, whilst this is simply a single exercise and no general conclusions can be derived from it, I would be interested to see how aware that young people actually are about the 30 different species of shark found in British waters.  In fact, I intend to develop an educational resource, made in the near future by pupils from my So What? club at the school where I work, to educate other young people about the 30 species of shark which can be found in British waters.

 

As you may have experienced yourself, the misconceptions some children have about animals are not just isolated to sharks.  A misconception that many of the pupils at the school where I work have, one that literally drives me up the wall is that tigers are from Africa!  I have lost count the amount of times I have heard children, and adults as well, come out with this statement and it is a developing misconception which I am always overly eager to rectify given the opportunity!  Whilst, there will always be misconceptions about animals, I think it is vital that So What? and other educational initiatives work tirelessly to try and eradicate these as soon as we are given the chance. 

 

Call me old fashioned, but the decimal point is still important to me.  It represents the importance of educating children to the highest standards possible.  Whilst fashionable trends in education will always come and go, I will continue to fight for the correct use of the decimal point, and fight to eradicate the misconceptions surrounding predators such as the great white shark.  I believe there is nothing wrong in trying to educate children about wildlife conservation to highest possible standard.  I believe species like the great white shark, tiger, rhino and lion deserve such high expectations and dedication.

 

 Matthew Payne

Picture credit: http://bit.ly/VtCUAe

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 15:07