To undertake maths work outside does not rely on expensive outdoor resources or the purchasing of a special kit.
The grit, dirt and weather take its toll so use old or worn products. It is likely you have many such items that are sitting quietly on a forgotten shelf. Here’s some examples:
Real money works best. Play games such as “Pitch ‘n’ Toss”. Split a class into groups. Each child in the group needs a coin and takes it in turns to carefully throw the coin at a wall. The child whose coin lands closest to the wall wins all the coins. The total is counted and recorded, and the game is repeated with a new set of coins.
- Old sets of plastic countersor objects
These work well for playing games where you need to quickly see what children know. If you are looking for examples of rotational symmetry outside, children can mark these with an object. It saves on chalk. If you want to see how a specific group of children are managing, then each group can use a different colour counter.
- Tape measures
A big emphasis in any curriculum is on children’s ability to accurately estimate and measure length. The use of tape measures can help children learn how to measure, round up and down to the nearest millimetre or centimetre and learn how to convert between different units. For example, when sowing seeds, children need to ensure that the seeds are planted at the correct depth and distance apart. Activities such as practising the long jump quickly, improve measuring skills as well as fitness.
Often children who find maths challenging inside can flourish when working outside. In my experience, mixed ability groups work well because the practical element of many activities enables all to be actively involved. For example, how do you measure the height of a tree or building that is too tall to climb up? This challenge will easily keep a KS2 class occupied for an outdoor session.
My top tips for undertaking maths outside include:
- Have a finishing game, investigation or activity for groups which finish early. This could be a strategy game such as the ‘Game of Nim’, which you only need to find 20 stones or other objects to play.
- You do not need a long session outside. You can meet your class in the playground to do a 10 minute mental maths game before heading back inside to move onto more maths work.
- Use an old white sheet for placing found objects such as weeds, sticks and stones. It makes them easier to see.
- Rather than using chalk, supply numbers on pebbles, cards or wooden disks. In my experience, it makes children work more quickly and creatively. Use clipboards and scrap paper for calculations.
- Keep asking your class “Where’s the maths in that?” Help them to articulate the maths which is in their everyday lives. Then they learn its relevance and application. For example, challenge them to think about what maths is taking place when a game of football is being played.
Juliet Robertson is a former head teacher who established Creative STAR Learning in 2007 to provide support, training and advice on outdoor learning and play. She is the author of two books, Dirty Teaching: A eginner’s Guide to Learning Outdoors and Messy Maths: An Outdoor and Playful Approach for Early Years. Juliet also runs an award–winning blog, I’m a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here!, where you can find over 80 ideas for outdoor maths, visit creativestarlearning.co.uk.
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