Today, I spent the day with some brilliant teachers in Sheffield helping them to discover the brilliance of teaching maths outdoors. I do have to say at this point that I got most of my ideas from CreativeStar Juliet Robertson is at the forefront of outdoor education. By looking at her blog you can see how enthusiastic she is about getting children and teachers working outside and the benefits it has for everybody. The blog has a link to many videos as well, take your time to read them. Her book is also coming out soon - that will be worth it's weight in gold!
So why work outside?
We all work in a variety of different schools and settings. Some have vast outdoor spaces, some do not. That doesn't mean we all shouldn't be using the outside to learn. Outdoor learning is a source of a different kind of learning experience. It can be described in a many number of ways. Exciting, powerful, inspirational and developmental are some I'd use. Scary, worrying, and frightful are the words some teachers might use. How do we get the children engaged in learning and not just throwing sticks or stones at each other? That's up to the teacher to make the learning meaningful and engaging. Juliet's blog has millions of ideas, I've only used the maths ones so far. It's about training the children to also see the outside environment as a learning area as well.
Outdoors develops social skills, brain development and creativity and it develops emotional resilience, confidence and physical development and learning. Need I say more than that!
We spent a good chunk of the day looking at how we can use a readily available material (sticks) for anything maths related. What if I don't have any sticks? Go to the nearest wood and get some! Or alternatively go to www.muddyfaces.co.uk (they have a whole range of outdoor equipment to use!) You can even buy a bag of measured sticks!
Ideas we looked at
- Identifying parallel and perpendicular lines
- identifying acute, obtuse and reflex angles
- building the tallest tower (thinking skills needed for this one!)
- Identifying fractions, decimals and percentages (if the picture doesn't show how to do this please ask me to explain on twitter)
Scale and Enlargement
This one really lends itself to outdoor learning. How often do we get kids to look at scales and draw something bigger than it is/was. We took this and changed it around, they had to build a house from the sticks provided (www.muddyfaces.co.uk) and then use squared paper to scale it down. This proved a challenge, but worthwhile. A really fun maths activity that all can access. Learning in an outdoor environment with maths in an active manner.
We also looked at who could create a shape with a surface area of ???cm squared? A perimeter of ?cm Another great activity which will get children to see the difference between perimeter and area in a real context - not just drawn on paper.
Following all this work with sticks it was time for the chalk to do the talking. Every school has rubbish, stones, sticks, leaves etc. Why not get the children to make their own data handling chart outside? We began with a simple tally chart to record what we had found in 2 minutes (thus tidying the school grounds!)
We then went onto trying to use our collected materials to make a caroll diagram or a Venn diagram. It all became very scientific after that, but data handling is taught through science in my school so I thought this proved my point about this strand of maths. In that it should be taught through science and we should not expect children to produce data based on what their favourite colour/ food is. Data handling can be and should be a lot more exciting than that!
After a quick lunch stop of meat and tatty pie from the school dinners (which was very nice!) We looked into other elements of the outside that we can use. Now all schools have a sand tray in FDN, some stretch into KS1 but some schools do even better and have fabulous sand trays in the playground for all to use (but beware of the cats!) We didn't have one to use today, but I wish we did. Using the sand pit can be great for maths. Measuring and weighing particularly come to mind. Creating areas / perimeters in the sand. Can you measure out a volume of ??? Sand can be used in so many ways, and it is not just for early years children. Would the children in your class know what 1kg of sand felt like?
The water tray is another traditional piece of equipment that is rarely seen beyond Y1. Why? Water is great for making learning fun, especially in the summer months when the children can get wet and not worry about it! After all, they can g changed in school afterwards! Recently in SATs the children were asked questions regarding how much liquid would a teacup hold, would your kids know? Get them outside with a huge VaT of water and lots of measuring equipment and let them investigate. Our favourite today was the water race (this is linked to Sciene) How many sponges would it take to fill the bowl? This links to absorption etc but was a real fun activity that I am sure all your children would enjoy. How much water can a sponge hold? How much water is lost on the journey? What is the best way to complete the challenge of transferring the water? Lots of possible ideas with this one.
Our last activity was my favourite. I'm an outdoors teacher master chef. Each child is given a recipe to make something outdoors. This lends itself brilliantly to weighing and measuring and can be easily differentiated to suit any age group. We stayed simple today with simple recipes of sticks, stones and leaves. But it is easy to make mud pie recipes, it's not just for FDn and KS1 you know!! You can use a range of measuring equipment and the recipe cards themselves can be made as easy or as hard as you like. E.g. A recipe for a mud pie could be. 1/5 water, 1/2 mud 30%stones. Using decimals, percentages and fractions like this would really stretch the children mathematically in KS2.
We finished on this brilliant activity, everyone went away happy. We shared as many ideas as we could in one day. We are lucky in the fact we have the Internet to use. It is a fabulous resource full of excellent ideas from brilliant people like Juliet. It's just about finding those brilliant people and learning from them.
The outdoors is a special place that children deserve to use as part of everyday school. Can you take learning outside everyday? It's possible, but it would be very hard to justify it everyday, but you could plan one outside activity per week. Literacy, art, PE, science, everything can be done outside. The questions is - are you a brave enough teacher to do it? Or are you a teacher who knows that you must do it, because you know it will be a memorable learning experience for the children involved?
I hope you enjoyed reading this entry. Please share these ideas and get your children outside!
I'm a deputy head in Scarborough, England and love using media and tech to develop writing. I'm also a keen advocate of Learning Without Limits and believe in a games based approach to developing mathematicians.