Numeracy in Nature Blog

Numeracy in Nature

Millions of Leaves, Thousands of Leaves, ONE HUNDRED LEAVES

Millions of Leaves

It’s autumn, the colorful leaves are falling in the outdoor classroom, and 2nd graders need practice with skip counting, flexible addition/subtraction strategies, and using models to show their work. I had noticed that the concept of 100 was not yet solid. Students were using millions and thousands to describe much smaller amounts. To address their math needs, along with their desire to be in nature, we visited our outdoor classroom to gather 100 leaves in three minutes. The students were paired and had drawn out their strategy before going outside. Counting one by one was NOT an option. Their strategies included:

  •  stacking leaves in piles of 10

  •  each child counting out 50 leaves by skip counting

  •  counting out the first 10 and estimating the other nine 10s

After the first trial, the results were: 8, 18, 25, 51, and 140. A class reflection followed to generate new and improved ideas. As it turns out many pairs had resorted to counting one by one. The second time, the students were more efficient and used estimation and skip counting to get closer to 100. One pair conducted a divide-and-conquer approach. They made a group of 10 together by finding two groups of five leaves. Once they had 10, they duplicated that by making a pile that appeared to be the same height.

The results were much closer the 2nd time:

82, 91, 94, 97, 100* (* there may have been some leaves added at the end, but they were certainly close to 100).

Laura Waite, Otisfield Community School, Grade 2

Windows and Wondering

Numeracy in Nature - Windows and Wondering

Oscar Wilde once said, “Two men look out a window. One sees mud, the other sees the stars.” What do you think a class of curious Kindergarteners sees when they look through a window in the woods? Can you imagine what kinds of math opportunities a window can provide?

I put 4 meter sticks down on the ground in our classroom space in the woods. I asked my students, “What do you notice? What do you wonder?” The first time I did this with my class, their responses were very hesitant. “Um pine needles and leaves?” “Why is there a stick in there?” We tried the activity a few more times and each time we got better at noticing and wondering. A week ago, I did it again and I heard more excitement, engagement, and vocabulary use. “I noticed that there are some leaves that have many different colors!” “I noticed there is a footprint in the corner. I wonder what made it!”

After we notice and wonder as much as we can, I ask them to think of some math questions we could ask. This activity has led us to counting leaves, estimating how many pine needles were inside the window, and measuring the length of a footprint with acorns. By laying down a clear visual that represents a window, the math opportunities are as endless as students’ wondering will take you. This activity can be easily used by students of all ages, grades, and abilities. Each age group will approach it at the level where they are, so the maths may be as simple or as complicated as would be appropriate for the ages. Changing window size and adding inside grid work is a great way to keep the activity fresh. Putting the window down in unique and different areas is also a great way to keep students wondering.

We love this activity because it lets us look closer, to wonder and to hear what others are also wondering, and to find math where we just played. It might be mud, it might be stars, but either way we are happily mathing!

Maggie Corlett, Kindergarten, Meroby Elementary, Mexico, ME

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