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Taking afterschool math learning outside with Numeracy in Nature

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Taking afterschool math learning outside with Numeracy in Nature

Photo courtesy of Tom Goodwin of Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance

By Becky Tapley (she/her), ACRES coach at the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance.

On a sunny day in April, afterschool educators gathered in Maine. Their heads, warmed by the sun, clustered around a circle of string and wondered aloud about the natural space below.

“I notice the grass is taller where it’s closer to the building.”

“I wonder what percentage is covered by grass.”

In these few minutes, these educators experienced a routine they can bring back to their programs called a Window of Wonder.

This routine is part of Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance’s (MMSA) Numeracy in Nature, a set of resources designed by educators, for educators, that invite youth to experience math while connecting with nature. As summer arrives it is an opportune time to explore resources for outdoor math learning and incorporate them into your programs. Americans spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors1, but spending time outside can reduce anxiety, stress, and depression and positively contribute to creative thinking, a sense of community, and even empathy2. This means that doing math outside can support many goals of afterschool programs.

Many educators I have worked with are anxious about supporting math learning. Through Numeracy in Nature, educators can find and adapt easy-to-implement ways to enjoy math in the local outdoors. As educator Amanda Bowen shared, “These math activities allow students to see that math really applies to the real world - so you have more engagement and student buy-in.”

One Numeracy in Nature routine is the Window of Wonder. This routine requires two things: a small outdoor area with some natural materials (e.g. sticks, pebbles, acorns) and materials to make a window, such as yardsticks, a hula hoop, or a 5-foot piece of string. One additional resource is important - a sense of wonder. Luckily, a few good questions can be all you need to let youths’ wonder soar.

Once the window is on the “spot of wonder”, invite youth to use their “math eyes” and ask them, “What do you notice?” This invites youth to contribute without the need to be right or wrong. All noticings are welcome. (Accessibility note: If youth are not sighted, welcome all youth to use their math ears, fingers, and noses.)

Then ask, “What do you wonder?” If the subjects students are working about are not connected to math, that is okay. You can nudge with prompts like, “What math questions can we ask about what is in our window?” Some wonderings may be things youth will want to explore, but it’s also okay to leave the wonderings unsolved and let the curiosity continue. Celebrate that youth have used their math senses to notice math outside.

To learn more, read blogs from educators, and view lesson plans, visit MMSA’s Numeracy in Nature website.

 

1 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 1989. Report to Congress on indoor air quality: Volume 2. EPA/400/1-89/001C. Washington, DC.
2 American Psychological Association. (2020, April). Nurtured by nature. Monitor on Psychology, 51(3). https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/nurtured-nature

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