Teacher Feature: The SEE Program Explores the Cape Buffalo

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Emily Sparling. She is the lead educator for the Smithsonian Early Explorer Program. This SEEC program meets for two hours twice a week in the Q?rius Jr. room at the National Museum of Natural History for children 18 months-2 years and their adult caregiver. The class was learning about the types of animals you would encounter during an East African safari and decided to spend a day focusing on the Cape Buffalo. Below you will find a reflection from Emily and images from her lesson.


What were your topics of exploration?

Our class was exploring the big five safari animals from East Africa and specifically the special characteristics and adaptations of each animal such as the lion’s retractable claws, the leopard’s amazing strength, the shock absorption in elephant feet, and the strong “helmet horns” on the Cape buffalo.

What were your learning objectives? (What did you want your children to take away from the lesson?)

My overarching objective throughout the unit was to help my students begin to develop careful looking skills. With this particular lesson my goal was for the students to begin to notice the way our skulls protect our brains and the way the Cape buffalo’s horns help it protect its brain.

What was most successful about your lesson?

With each animal we would first visit the Mammal Hall at Natural History to see an actual specimen and then on our second museum visit explore something a bit more abstract in relationship to that animal’s characteristics. I think giving the children a concrete interaction with the animal allowed them to connect with some of the more abstract explorations. In this particular lesson we visited NGA to look at some intricate helmets and a large bust of a bull. Despite the fact that the helmets were a bit above eye level (we had to lift each kid up), I was really amazed at how closely they looked at them. Perhaps the most successful part of the experience, though, was the crepe paper finish line. Art is cool but crepe paper is better…after our visit we let the kids try on helmets and “charge” through a crepe paper finish line to demonstrate how a buffalo might charge.

What could you have done differently? What recommendations would you have for another teacher trying out this lesson?

Unlike some of the other classes at SEEC, our program has a parent/caregiver + child model. This lesson occurred during the height of spring break on the National Mall and as such crowds were larger and security tighter making it considerably more difficult for my families to navigate through the museums. I think I could have been a bit more thoughtful about those dynamics while planning my trip. Sometimes in the process of planning for learning I forget about planning for creature comfort! I think wherever your classroom is,  staying attuned to the environment is important. Thankfully crepe paper is highly portable and there was plenty of green space for the kids to run it out once we left the museum!

Here are a few images from her lesson on Cape Buffaloes:

DSCN2796After a quick gathering in their classroom Emily and her class headed to the National Gallery of Art. Their first stop was Head of Bull by Gaetano Montia. Emily reminded the group about the information they had learn about the Cape Buffalo and showed them a few images. She then asked the group what were some of the differences and similarities between the two horned animals.

DSCN2818The group next went to see The Morosini Helmet. Here, Emily wanted to emphasize how the Cape buffalo horns act as an extra layer of protection for their brain just like a helmet does for people.

DSCN2826Emily brought along different types of helmets for the group to wear and compare to the art work. 

DSCN2857Since the object is displayed high on a pedestal, Emily took time to lift each child and allow them to closely examine the object.

DSCN2864The group then headed out to try using their strong helmets. Emily had two adults hold the streamer tight and invited the children to run at it and use their heads, just like a Cape buffalo uses their horns, to break through.

DSCN2873 DSCN2878The kids loved trying out the different helmets.

This class had a wonderful time learning about safari animals! Be sure to check back for our Teacher Feature next week!