Numeracy in Nature: Let Me Count the ‘Whys’

“Why?” is a question I hear often when discussing taking learning outside.  I would like to share just a few of the many reasons I have learned from my experiences of taking math outside.

  • It is FUN!  Yep, I said it. And who doesn’t like fun?  And shouldn’t learning be joyful? Besides creating a positive learning environment, it leads to a waterfall of positive outcomes such as…

  • Engagement-when students are excited about learning, engagement follows.  It is a rare occasion when one of my students does not look forward to math in nature.  It is not unusual for them to brainstorm extensions for the work we are doing or completely new activities for the class to try.

  • It taps into children’s natural curiosity.  We, as a species, are curious about the world around us.  Put a child into a situation where they can explore and they are off.

  • Cooperation and conversations.  When we are outside doing math, the students naturally move into what I call interactive mode.  They want to show each other, problem-solve together, talk about what they are seeing or doing.  Some students even move into teacher mode to help their peers. This addresses so many of the math practices we try to foster in the classroom.  It is so much more powerful because it happens organically and we can help them hone their skills more easily.

  • Success-we all have students who struggle in the classroom for various reasons.  Time and again, I have seen these students shine in the natural classroom.  They feel positive about their learning, which leads to…

  • Increase in self-confidence.  Taking learning outside seems to remove some of the fear of failure many students have when doing math.  They focus on the experience, not a score.  They take risks and are more apt to keep trying, they are excited to share their successes.  I have seen students make intuitive leaps to higher concepts that they might otherwise struggle to make in the classroom.

  • Math is made real.  Taking math into nature makes it real for students, not just something they have to do for school. They begin to see how math is an integral part of our lives and older students can see where concepts originated.

There are so many more benefits to ‘taking it outside’, but I think the best argument for it is that students love it.  As learning is a life-long process, showing children that learning can be a joyful endeavor will pay endless dividends.

Even if math cannot be taken outside as often as one would like, using natural objects in the classroom can link to the excitement students felt when they were outside.

Cheryl-Lynne Finlay, Meroby Elementary, 4th grade

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