Taking Math Outdoors

Math Outdoors

Recently I had an opportunity to attend an outdoor education trip with our elementary students. The trip took place over three days and was located in a very remote part of the state, away from high rises, city lights, cell phone signals, and televisions.  The trip focused on learning about birding, forest ecology, Native Americans, orienteering, and pioneering.  For many students this trip is a different learning experience.  It’s outside of the classroom and therefore a different learning environment for them. Acclimating to this environment took a bit of time for staff and students.

The adults were responsible to teach many of the concepts during hikes on campus.  Being outside is a great opportunity to introduce or highlight academic concepts that are generally taught through abstract means.  While talking about math outdoors, students expressed interest and asked questions that often led to additional mathematical questions.  Students that might not usually be fully engaged in a math lesson at school were shining on the hike. This experience led me to reflect on our current mathematical practices.  At times there’s a disconnect between what’s happening in the classroom and what’s occurring right outside of the doors to the school.  Teachers often attempt to bridge the gap, but self-directed student questions often come from real world experiences and curiosity.  Curiosity is often followed by questions.  Finding answers to those questions can lead students to find their passions (eg. #geniushour).  This motivation can be encouraged but not genuinely bought or sold.  Students decide how engaged they want to be and internal/intrinsic motivation often leads to learning experiences.

Below are some (of what I can remember) of the questions/topics that were discussed while on the trip:

Concepts

					
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