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Learning Maths Outside the Classroom - Maths Naturally

This page has been archived. The content was correct at the time of original publication, but is no longer updated.
Created on 14 July 2008 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 21 October 2010 by ncetm_administrator

School GroundsSchool Grounds

One, Two, Tree ... Maths Naturally



We are a small, rural first school with 62 children.  We have 1 full-time teacher, 5 part-time teachers as well as several support members of staff.  The school is in the heart of the village, opposite the parish church and within walking distance of many of the children’s homes.  We are lucky to have access to a large field, a wild-life area and surrounding hedgerows and trees.

November 2007
An initial meeting was held between the head teacher, NCETM Regional Coordinator and school maths coordinator to discuss the broader objectives of the week.  It was agreed that there should be a different focus area for each day of the week.  The main objectives were to:
  • make children more aware of the maths that surrounds them;
  • provide opportunities for children to discover and make links between class-based maths work and that of the wider world;
  • encourage staff to use the school grounds (as well as visits further afield);
  • invite parents to share in their child’s achievements;
This meeting was reported back at a whole school staff meeting.

January 2008
A further meeting between head teacher and maths coordinator took place.  The organisation of the week was discussed and timetabled.  Existing resources were assessed and additional ones ordered.  A detailed timetable, list of useful resources and ideas for the week were given to all staff

3rd-7th March 2008
Maths Outdoors Week 

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Day One - Shape & Pattern


2D and 3D shape hunt outside.  The children took photographs using a digital camera.  These were then used with Smart Notebook software and the children used the interactive white board pens to spot and draw over the shapes to see them more clearly. 


Years 1 & 2

Whole class visit to the Angel of North (focus on gigantic shapes and patterns).

The children made sketches, felt the smooth texture, marvelled at the size and discussed how it had been made and erected.   Back at school they made smaller scale models using foil.


Years 3 & 4

Nature’s shapes and patterns (focus on miniature shapes and patterns).
After a ‘warm-up’ children went on a nature hunt.  They gathered fallen leaves, seeds, cones, twigs, stones etc.  Back in class they spent time looking and commenting on the shape and patterns they could initially see e.g. hemisphere of acorn cup, and then went on to use magnifying glasses to look for further patterns and shapes making many discoveries e.g. the regular pattern on the outside of the acorn cup that had never been noticed before.  Patterns were made in sand trays then photographed and duplicated.


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Day Two - Counting & Humbers


The class set off in school grounds to find sets of numbers i.e. set of 5 trees, set of 8 berries.  The teacher made suggestions at first and then the children made their own.  Back in class the children made ‘counting hats’ and started to prepare their picnic making sure they had counted enough slices of bread, cucumber, raisin boxes and grapes for their sandwich boxes.


Years 1 & 2

The class went on a ‘Number Walk’.  This began in school and continued in the immediate school grounds before setting off through the village to the local play park.


Years 3 & 4

The older children developed strategies for counting large numbers.  They worked in small groups to tackle challenging tasks e.g. counting bricks used to build small wall.  They discussed strategies such as counting small sections individually them combining their numbers using both metal and informal written methods.  In pairs they designed and then made playground games (based on hopscotch) to help learn times tables.


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Day Three - Measures


The children looked carefully to see which garlic bulb had grown the most in the school vegetable beds.  They used wool to find the longest twig and then compared with friends to find the longest twig in the class.  Drinks were carefully measured out for the picnic which took place in the woods nearby.


Years 1 & 2     

A whole series of measuring tasks took place including the whole class, trees, leaves and leaves.  The children played games to see how far they could throw a Frisbee.  Both non-standard and standard units of measurement were used e.g. footsteps and metres.


Years 3 & 4     

The children were presented with a list of challenges including measuring length, capacity and time (sometimes a combination of more than one).  The tasks included how best to measure perimeter, timing each other to carry out activities e.g. skipping and estimating how many egg-cups full of water it would take to till a bucket as well as carrying out the task to check the answer.  Having learned to finger-knit the children decided to see if they could knit their way around the school!


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Day 4 - Handling Data


The children set off into the school grounds and gardens to see how many of each spring flower they could find.  They carried small boxes and a multilink cube was dropped into the relevant box to represent that particular flower each time it was seen.  By linking the cubes the children could see immediately which flowers appeared the most.


Years 1 & 2

The children walked around the village to carry out a survey of the materials used to build the houses and buildings.  This was initially recorded on a tally chart.  In pairs they converted the tally charts to bar charts on the school playground using chalk.


Years 3 & 4

The class set up a ‘Nature Watch’ by preparing tally chart for the wildlife they would expect to see in the school grounds over a given period of time.  They sat outside (quietly!) and filled in their tally charts.  The charts had to be changed as and when animals not on the original tally chart were spotted.


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Day Five - Treasure Hunt

A mathematical treasure hunt was prepared for the whole school and any parents who were able to join us.  There were three levels of ten questions and these were set up on a loop system so that teams could start from any point.  Apart from being fun and challenging, it gave parents an insight into what their child learns as part of their maths curriculum.

We used Mathematical Treasure Hunts  (see resources list below) as a basic format and adapted it with our own questions. 

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How Successful were we?

Objective - make children more aware of the maths that surrounds them; 
Achievements - There was a buzz in school all week.  Children even carried on with their mathematical conversations at playtime.  As the week progressed children became much more independent and were able to come up with their own ideas/suggestions and were much more confident in taking the lead.

Objective - provide opportunities for children to discover and make links between class-based maths work and that of the wider world; 
Achievements - We asked children at the beginning and the end of the week the same question: What does ‘maths outdoors’ mean to you?  Although we had a few interesting replies, many children could not initially suggest anything.  By the end of the week, when asked the same question, it was clear that they had a much deeper understanding of what this meant and were able to give us first-hand accounts.

We wanted to give the children a valuable learning experience that would inspire them and that they would remember.  We feel we achieved this.

Objective - encourage staff to use the school grounds (as well as visits further afield); 
Achievements - We often forget how easy it is to step outside our classrooms and immediately enter the cross-curricular real-life world.  This week reinforced for us our belief that children should experience the world beyond the classroom as an essential part of learning and personal development.  We have since used our outdoor environment much more regularly.

Objective - invite parents to share in their child’s achievements; 
Achievements - This was three-fold. It gave parents an opportunity to see what their children had done earlier in the week, they were able to participate in a whole school maths activity and it enabled them to take home ideas of how they can use their own and neighbouring outdoor spaces as a fun, learning environment.  Parent feedback was positive.

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Further Considerations

At any time of the year the weather can be unpredictable.  Although we were lucky that it did not rain it was still very, very cold.   The children were well-prepared and the physical nature of the activities kept them warmed up.  However, it might be better to hold such an event later in the year.

Although our aim is to increase opportunities generally for learning outside the classroom, we still believe that having dedicated days/weeks to promote this works well and we will continue to incorporate this into our medium and long term planning.

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Resources we found useful

Maths Outdoors by Carole Skinner (BEAM)
Maths All Week by June Loewenstein (BEAM)
Mathematical Treasure Hunts by Vivien Lucas (Tarquin Books)
Maths in the School Grounds by Zoe Rhydderch-Evans (Southgate Publishers)
Maths Outdoors by Mercia Lee & Helen Yorke (TTS)

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Quotes from Teachers

“Maths was really brought to life, particularly for the more kinaesthetic learners where active and practical activities brought real meaning to the tasks.”

“Moving away from the plastic curriculum the children were measuring the lengths of twigs and branches, fields and garden rather than the height of chairs and tables.  This brought an element of adventure to their problem-solving activities.”

“Maths tasks were on a larger scale because of the element of accessing greater space.  The children were encouraged to work with bigger numbers and so were more motivated to solve more complex real-life problems.”

“From a creative point of view, the more open-ended challenges encouraged the children to use their higher-order thinking skills."

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Quotes from Children

“It is Thursday already and we are collecting data.  Sometimes it is cold outside and my toes are like ice cubes…but that’s a 3D shape as well!”

“I liked chalking out the hopscotch.  I feel really pleased about it.  I felt worried about my times tables before but I did my 4x using my fingers to help me count.  Now I can remember it.”

“Last week I thought outdoor maths week would be rubbish but yesterday was brilliant!”  (After having spent a day on measuring.)

“The Angel of the North was amazing.  It is so massive and looks really strong.”

“I like maths because it is fun.” 

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