Measuring What’s Wild

This week our 4th graders headed out into the woods at our Principal’s home to explore and learn about Maine’s natural environment. Seeing the kids outside was energizing. They came alive, running, hopping, and skipping.  They wanted to inspect at everything!! They were fascinated with mushrooms and different tree varieties, and crossing a rushing brook was an epic adventure with shrieks of delight. The children definitely thrived in this new outdoor classroom. 

“Whoa, look at that tree!!”

“Wow, it’s HUGE?”

“I’ve never seen a tree so big!!!”

“Why does it have red paint on it?”

Our Principal went on to explain that it was a property boundary tree, so the land around the tree had been logged, but they didn’t cut down this particular pine because it was a boundary marker between property lines. Seeing how curious the students were their teacher asked, “What do you think the diameter of that tree is?  Can we estimate?”

Previously back in the woods at school, students had made estimates in the forest using their hand spans as a measure. They knew their spans were about a foot, so they could use that information to estimate how many feet long something was. Immediately they ran to the tree and tried to see how many of their hand spans it would take to go all the way around. They were short a small section, so the Principal joined them to close the gap. They discovered that it took the hand spans of 11 people to go around the tree, so the diameter was close to 11 feet! 

The entire day was exciting, but this small connection of math with nature was one of many academic connections made that day. They measured their heart rates before and after their hike, and they tracked the number of steps they walked during the day. They also used a phone app to create a map of the hike and see how far the hike was. All of this math was done with inquisitive attitudes and smiles. 

Yes, you can lead your students across water, and you can get make them think!

Karen Wilson, Meroby Elementary School Math Coach


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