Skip to content

Finding Math Outside

Teaching during a global pandemic has brought about many changes and some of those have been good things that have moved teaching, learning and student engagement forward in a positive way. One change I hope sticks around is getting kids outside more frequently.  What started as getting kids outside for a mask break has become an opportunity to engage kids in the mathematics of the world around us.  When we get kids outside, we bring real life mathematics to them in an engaging and exciting way.

I recently went on a longer outdoor adventure with a large group of kids who are in kindergarten and first grade.  It was approximately a two mile hike that was part of a larger school wide community service project.  This example is certainly longer than most examples of opportunities we have to get kids outside but I was struck by how many opportunities the kids had to engage with real life math that also moved their understanding of the high leverage concepts forward while we were hiking.

So many kids took the opportunity of the changing scenery to count something.  Kids were counting trees, birds and boats.  Steps were another popular counting option.   Not only were kids counting but they were also using the opportunity to engage in mathematically rich discussions about what they were counting.  I heard things like “let’s see where we land when we take 20 steps!” and “I wonder how many steps it will take us to get to that tree!” 

This counting led to some opportunities to subitize as well.  There were plenty of objects in the world around us that were in small groups.  Some leaves on the pavement, a group of ducks on the lake, the kids in front of us all giving our young mathematicians a chance to subitize quantities.  The counting opportunities happened more organically and the opportunities to talk about subitizing were more teacher driven but kids were excited and happy to continue subitizing once I got them started.  They had a lot of fun sharing how they knew how many without counting by ones.  

All this counting and subitizing naturally led to opportunities to compare quantities.  Kids had the opportunity to use words like more than, less than, fewer and greater while interacting with the world around them.  I even overheard one student ask his friend “do you know how many more that is?”  As we were nearing the end of our walk, a couple of students picked up leaves and claimed to have found the “smallest” and “biggest” leaves of the day which led to many kids picking up leaves and comparing sizes.

Getting students outside of the walls of the classroom and providing them with opportunities to mathematize our world helps kids see the beauty and fun of math while moving their understanding forward.  I encourage teachers to look for the small moments in their days to bring math to life for students.  

By Tara Trudo, Math Specialist

Thank you to Tara for sharing how math can be found outside the classroom walls and for evidence of how students naturally explore and engage in mathematical conversations. Let us know how you have brought your students out into the world to find math around them!