Editor’s note: This is an updated version of a blog post published on July 27, 2020.
Ask a child where they learn mathematics. More often than not they’ll say “in the classroom”.
When thinking about how to continue your students’ learning post lockdown, it’s important to recognise the valuable opportunities that learning outdoors provides — to look at learning through the lens of the natural world instead of merely replicating your indoor activities, outside.
Why learning outdoors benefits children (and their teachers)
Extending the classroom outdoors has many advantages for learning, here are some reasons to add it to your teaching practice.
1. Learning outdoors helps to bridge the gap between classroom learning and life outside of school
Many children fail to make the connection between the maths concepts they learn in the classroom and their lives outside of school.
Taking the classroom outside and giving children opportunities to apply their learning in their natural environment helps make the maths they learn meaningful.
Incorporating outdoor learning opportunities during lessons for children is important. They are likely to be engaged and more motivated to learn when they see the experience as valuable and relevant. The outside environment often helps to give abstract concepts a real-life context.
2. Taking the classroom outside doesn’t mean a bigger workload
Do you avoid taking your classroom outside out of fear it might add unnecessary work to your already jam-packed timetable?
You’re not alone. Often a major reason for dismissing learning outdoors is because it’s seen as a whole new environment. One with its own set of objectives on top of what our children need to achieve inside the classroom.
But I promise that this is not the case.
The outside learning environment should be viewed as an extension of the classroom; an opportunity for children to learn and apply skills in a practical way.
How to switch to teaching maths lessons outside
An important part of taking your maths classroom outside is recognising the opportunities the natural world provides. Consider the objectives for your next lesson and think about how they could be applied outdoors.
Yes, it may feel less structured in the beginning and yes it might be more difficult to see what everyone is doing at once — but in return, your learners will be given a rich mathematical experience.
Here are a few lesson ideas to help get you started,
1. Teaching Measurement Outside
Measurement units are one of the easiest ways to get your class using their outdoor environment for learning. The large amounts of space gives children the opportunity to do things like measure a kilometre, or estimate larger distances between objects, experiences they couldn’t have inside the classroom.
Den building is a favourite childhood activity for many children. Adding criteria can be a fun and challenging way to enrich the experience, for example:
The den needs to have an area no smaller than 1 metre squared but no bigger than 8 metres squared.
2. Teaching Word Problems Outside
Give children word problems with outdoor contexts. This will give them an opportunity to leave the classroom to find all the information they might need to solve it. Here are some examples you can adapt to your outdoor classroom:
The caretaker needs to fertilise the field. The cost of fertiliser is 20c a metre. How much would it cost to fertilise the whole school field?
The caretaker needs to add chlorine to the school pool. The cost of chlorine is 20c per litre and the ratio of chlorine to water is 1:2. How much would the school need to spend on chlorine for the school pool?
3. Teaching Surveys and Statistics Outside
Surveys and investigations are an easy way to take the classroom outside.
Rather than the usual eye colour, fruit or how you get to school survey, why not take them outside and survey the number of cars that pass in a given timeframe, or ask them effective questions like:
Which car colour is the most popular in the school car park?
There are also opportunities for longer investigations all with real life contexts. Children can measure things like plant growth or the daily rainfall over a given period. Gathering the information to record in a number of different ways, they can be challenged to draw their own conclusions about the data.
4. Teaching Position and Direction Outside
Many of the common classroom activities we use to teach this topic, such as guiding friends around the classroom using turns and directions can easily be taken outside. The additional space provides children with an enriched experience and more opportunities for creativity and exploration.
5. Teaching Mark Making Outside
Mark making and recording mathematics in our books carries expectations, books are somewhat permanent.
While mark making outside is a completely different experience. With all that extra space, children can get creative, explore with size and experiment with the effectiveness of their recording.
Learning outdoors also allows children to use chalk, water, dirt and all sorts of other things for mark making. This is an experience they don’t get inside the classroom.
Extending our classrooms outdoors creates a unique experience that enhances and compliments our indoor learning experience. Will you give it a try?