9 ways to take your maths lessons outside

Blog post written by: Adam Harvey, Primary School Teacher in Guernsey and developer of resource website: www.educateoutside.com.

Maths is a great lesson to take outdoors with endless possibilities for teaching many different subject areas. I first started taking my lessons outside when I saw how much of a positive impact it had on one of my slightly more challenging students. In class I found it very difficult to motivate them, causing them to distract not only themselves, but the rest of the table! It was a subject I dreaded teaching as I was on constant high alert and would feel extremely drained after the lesson…that was until I took it outside!

I have never looked back since and, wherever possible, teach the curriculum outside of the classroom. It’s been extremely successful for me in not only in improving my enjoyment in teaching, but the children’s learning.

Here are 9 lesson ideas that I have used and developed to take maths lessons outside.

Grouping Up – A fun lesson starter (ages 4 – 12)
Outdoor lesson starters are a great way to get students out of their seats and active while practising their mathematical skills. For this activity your class will get into groups as quickly as possible based on the criteria you read out (e.g. get into a prime number/an even number/a group with 4 noses).
Download differentiated criteria sheets here: www.educateoutside.com/resource/grouping-up-math-starter/

Symmetry Ideas (ages 4 – 12)

Symmetry is a really fun and easy topic to take outside with minimal preparation.

Symmetry hunt – Find objects with 1, 2, 3, or 4 lines of symmetry. You can then get them to record their findings on a sheet, take a photo of it, or simply just let them enjoy finding symmetry – not everything has to be evidenced and assessed!

Symmetry bugs – Get your class to design and build their own symmetrical bugs using sticks.

Check out loads of outdoor symmetry ideas and resources here: www.educateoutside.com/resources/symmetry/

Data Handling Ideas (ages 7 – 12)
Data handling is another subject area where the opportunities for outdoor learning are endless. Below is just a few of the ideas I have used to great success:

  • Collect data about types of plants or animals in the outdoor space.
  • Measure their heart rate after different types of exercise.
  • Do litter picking and collect then look at data about the different kinds of litter you found.

For more ideas and resources check out some data handling ideas here: www.educateoutside.com/resources/data-handling/

Tree Height (ages 10 – 12)
Trees can be used for lots of outdoor learning activities, many of which will fit into your maths lessons. If you are looking at measurement, conversion, or estimation this is a great activity for you. Your class will estimate and measure the height of trees using only themselves, a pencil, and a ruler. You could then go on to using this information for a data handling unit.
For instruction on how to measure the height of trees check out this resource: www.educateoutside.com/resource/measurement-tree-height/

Compass Directions (ages 7 – 12)
In pairs, armed with a compass and record sheet, get each partner to go around your outdoor area, stand in a spot, and record what they can see at different compass headings. They will then swap sheets with their partner and try to figure out where they were stood by using the information they recorded onto the sheet. For more of a challenge, students can use more precise headings.
See this resource for more information: www.educateoutside.com/resource/compass-directions-where-am-i/

Shape Hunt (ages 4 – 6)
This is a really simple but fun activity for your little ones who are looking at shape recognition. Get them to go into your outdoor space and see which different shapes they can see in the area. This can be done verbally with a teacher, learning assistant, partner, or by recording it on a record sheet.
Download the record sheet for free here: www.educateoutside.com/resource/shape-recognition-shape-hunt/

Number Recognition (4 – 6)

There are lots of ways to look at number recognition in the outdoors. I love using task cards with simple instructions to collect a certain number of sticks, leaves, or stones. Some of the cards involve finding a simple number, others involve finding a simple number and size/colour, and more challenging cards involve finding two different numbers.
Check out the resource here: www.educateoutside.com/resource/numbers-1-10-outdoor-counting-and-simple-addition/

The Human Clock (7 – 12)
Time can be a difficult subject to teach at the best of times. The human clock game makes this tricky topic active and fun for your students. Create a large clock using sticks, chalk, or anything else that works for you and read out different times, getting your students to make the time using their bodies as the clock arms while lying on the floor. This activity works really well as a whole class; however, it can also be very effective when students are working in small groups using differentiated time task cards that you can get using this link: www.educateoutside.com/resource/time-the-human-clock-game/

Addition Olympics (7 – 12)
Get your class outside, keeping fit, while doing maths! Addition Olympics is a great activity for your students to practise column addition with carrying. In pairs, get them to complete timed activities where they add their results together using column addition to get a combined score. My class absolutely love this activity and frequently play it in their own time!
Check out the activity sheets here: www.educateoutside.com/resource/addition-olympics/

I hope you have found some of these ideas helpful and are able to use them with your class. Remember, getting children to enjoy learning is half the battle and taking lessons outside can play a big part in this. Venture away from the classroom and enjoy!

About the Author
Adam Harvey is a primary school teacher from Guernsey, spending most of his time in KS2, with a huge passion for learning outside the classroom. As a child he spent the majority of his time outside, taking risks, getting muddy and, without knowing it, learning lots from doing so! Because of this, he has helped developed www.educateoutside.com which gives teachers access to resources.

Posted in Learning Outside the Classroom, Maths, School Grounds | Leave a comment

My Five Years Learning Outside the Classroom at The Park Primary School, Bristol

Blog post written by: Kirstin Whitney, Primary School Teacher in Kingswood, South Gloucestershire on the outskirts of Bristol. She has taught ‘Outdoor Learning’ for the past 5 years across all ages and developed the school grounds to accommodate the outdoor lessons.

My initial brief was to setup and run ‘Forest School’ sessions in the school grounds, to me this was an exciting opportunity to combine my passion for the outdoors with my passion for teaching.

I was lucky enough to train one day a week for 6 weeks with the Forest School Learning Initiative which was brilliant – after a day’s training I went home inspired to tackle the next essay with enthusiasm and interest. In school I practiced what I could with the children in my class and enjoyed their enthusiastic response.

Time well spent
I love the outdoors and feel well rewarded when I can share this passion with others whether through gardening, hikes, bike rides, climbing, camping or canoeing trips. I was sure that I could use the forest school sessions to inspire, interest and enthuse school children too. My only problem was that firstly we didn’t have a forest and secondly, I had spent the best part of the last eight years in a classroom constantly working towards the next SAT test! How could we integrate the principles of Forest School with the National Curriculum and make it ‘time well spent’?

Firstly, we do have quite large school grounds with some trees and a number of grassed areas. Secondly, we already had an outdoor classroom built a few years earlier. And lastly we have a local park only a short walk away. I did need to put some thought into how this land was used however.

Land sustainability was one of the most important topics in our Forest School training. In our case if all 600 pupils were able/allowed to stomp around the few wild areas that we had on the grounds daily for just six months there would be little vegetation left and nowhere to continue with the lessons.

Complementing the children’s classroom learning
I made both a short-term (1 year) and long-term (3 year) plan which included dreams for the outdoor areas with my very modest budget.
In the winter I still planned to be outside but doing activities that could take place predominately on drier ground such as the playground or paths around the school. In summer we would use the grassed areas and also take the classes to the park (to ruin their grass rather than ours). We also converted a disused area at the school to do some growing.

I researched online and signed up to all the free information and resources that are out there, I joined Twitter @wildurbans and began my own website www.wildurban.org to record the children’s work. The website also gave me a source from which to reflect and develop my ideas. It would have been all too easy to take children outside and carry out a weekly activity from the Woodland Trust website (which is wonderful) but I needed the lessons to be curriculum led rather than activity led. With all the resources that I had been collecting I now began to work through the curriculum to see where I was best placed to complement the children’s classroom learning. I was amazed to find opportunities everywhere! History, Geography, Art, DT, English, Maths, RE were all readily teachable outside.

Science however seemed to stand out as a subject which belonged outside and would need resources that perhaps were beyond the classroom. Science began with studying the natural world and still continues to solve its mysteries.

Let the science come alive
Many great scientists such as Newton, Darwin and Mary Anning worked outside collecting information and studying the world around us. Perhaps the best way for young people to learn about science is to investigate outside and let the science come alive in front of them? The education advisor Ken Robinson points to “the 8 Cs” ‘curiosity, creativity, criticism, communication, collaboration, compassion, composure and citizenship’ as being the foundations of education. Learning outside promotes all of these goals. As an alternative to doing a worksheet, looking at a flip chart or a computer simulation in the classroom you can find a beetle habitat; test the air resistance of a self-crafted arrow; trial den materials; feel the vibrations of a homemade wind chime; cook apples that you have grown; heat chocolate; water; dough; popcorn over a fire; record the wind speed; and use a compass to navigate around the grounds.

I decided to start here – using the Science curriculum to inspire lessons outside which I could make appropriate to the age of the children and resources available to us. Near the end of the first year I was extremely happy when a Year 4 child said “Oh good we have you this afternoon, your lessons are the only ones that we really learn anything in”. I tried to expand on my Forest School training to design lessons that taught the children through activities and play, e.g. creating their own fire with strikers (friction); practicing knots and whittling to make bows and arrows (air resistance); mini beast hunting (habitats); practicing Hapa Zome (flower parts); and building dens (materials).

They not only learn the core knowledge suggested in the curriculum but they gain broader experience – they communicate and collaborate in teams when carrying out the investigations. They are often spread all over the school grounds so they have to show composure and citizenship as they charge around the orienteering course out of the sight of any teacher. Working usually in teams they have to work with compassion as they accommodate each other’s idiosyncrasies. The children have become guardians of the school grounds and they have planted Woodland Trust saplings, daffodil bulbs, willow igloos and wildflower areas as well as built benches, bug hotels and sand pits.

Being the Eco-School leader I have been able to integrate the eco-work that has led to our receiving our Green Flag₅ in 2018. The children built a plastic bottle greenhouse (which cost approximately £40) in timber and bamboo canes in the first year. The next year they built a cob pizza oven for cooking their garden produce. Since then we have developed the pond/wildlife garden, introduced chickens and developed a fire pit area. There is a wealth of ideas and resources on websites such as ThePod, RHS Schools and the RSPB, you can get free seeds, potatoes, litter pickers, small grants and workshops.

The impact of Outdoor Learning
So what impact has Outdoor Learning had on the children’s lives at The Park Primary? The children’s understanding of the natural world builds year on year as terms such as habitat, friction, pollination, pitch and prey can be used fluently and encourages them to develop their own understanding. They are keen to maintain the school grounds by doing litter picking, moving worms, pruning, maintaining the pond, fetching and feeding the chickens and even building compost bins through this work they have developed a respect of nature, wildlife and animals. Luckily for me their enthusiasm never wains for their ‘Outdoor Learning Lesson’ as I enter the classroom, rain or shine the children are smiling and excited. They are learning that getting cold and wet is not the end of the world and their resilience is increasing.

The most significant thing that I find is how much more engaged they are in my outdoor lessons compared to my previous classroom lessons. Undoubtedly for the children who struggle in class bringing the learning to life helps no end but that does not diminish the effect that the lessons have on all types of children in the school – they love it and what you love you invest time and thought in. With a more global view in mind David Attenborough says “If children don’t grow up knowing about nature and appreciating it they will not understand it and if they don’t understand it they won’t protect it. And if they don’t protect it, who will?”

Over the last few wonderful years we have won over the parent’s aversion to mud, and engaged their interest in the garden and chickens. We have developed the grounds with four outdoor learning classrooms and teachers also take their classes out for lessons – fuelled by the children’s requests. We have links with the local park association and get involved with Christmas and Summer events. The grounds have hosted Sustainable Learning’s ‘Outdoor Learning’ conference and I run Twilight training sessions for local education professionals every other term. The next training will be in celebration of receiving our RHS Level 5 Award and we will be talking about how schools can get started and develop school gardening.

So if you haven’t already then get started. Apply for Potato Council potatoes find a free spot of soil or a protected spot in the playground and get growing. Print out a google maps aerial view and start orienteering – find maths questions, Christmas clues or just traditional markers. If you have a concrete landscape use the Olympics resources to test your heart and jumping skills or, better still, find your local park and see if your local police supply free hi viz jackets. Track the seasons, weather, wildlife and plants across the year and your confidence will grow term on term, good luck.

About the Author
Kirstin Whitney is a Primary School Teacher working in Kingswood, South Gloucestershire on the outskirts of Bristol.

She has taught ‘Outdoor Learning’ for the past 5 years across all ages and developed the school grounds to accommodate the outdoor lessons.

Read more from Kirstin at her website: www.wildurban.org and follow her on Twitter.

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LOtC and Physical Exercise for Children with Autism

Blog Post written by Will Price, Curriculum Development Leader at a specialist autism provision school in Leicestershire.

In the last decade or so, the joint disciplines of health maintenance and fitness have become a huge part of modern life, and this movement has been firmly embraced within the education sector.

The government has invested heavily in School Sport Partnerships/Initiatives across the county, while thousands of schools nationwide partook in daily HIIT (High Intensity Impact Training) workouts in the Joe Wicks, aka The Body Coach, Schools Fitness Week last September (2018). Visit any school in the UK, and you’ll be greeted by students participating in some form of sport or exercise.

Workouts at work
I’m incredibly fortunate to teach at a specialist autism provision, where staff are actively encouraged to bring their interests into their daily practice. This has resulted in the provision of equine therapy, mindfulness and gardening, among many other examples – all of which significantly enhance the student experience.

As a passionate exercise advocate, I wanted to prove to students that it wasn’t just a mandatory subject, but should be considered a key tool in the long-term pursuit of positive physical and mental health. I’ve found that the main thing when working with ASD students is to ensure they see the point and the relevance of what they are doing. And, like any other piece of gained knowledge, this needs to be taught.

Show, don’t tell
The majority of our students simply didn’t see the point in exercise; they just saw it as ‘PE’. Attempting to change perceptions is no mean feat, and this only becomes more difficult when students already have an incredibly negative perception of mainstream education. To many of the students I worked with, PE was a subject that created high levels of anxiety, when in fact it has the capacity to do the complete opposite.

Trying to change the fixed mindset and rigidity of thought that ASD often provides one of the toughest challenges when working with our pupils. Fortunately, there are multiple different types of sport and exercise, meaning that there’s always something to suit everyone. We’ve offered activities from rock climbing to dog walking, mountain biking to pony trekking. The first task is to unearth that interest, and the next step is to cultivate it.

Studies from organisations such as Autism Speaks and the Autism Research Institute have found that exercise provides a short-term reduction in stereotypical behaviours in children with ASD. Specifically, the studies found a decrease in aggression, off-task behaviour, and elopement. And, through my personal teaching experience, I agree wholeheartedly.

The studies went on to say that these outcomes weren’t because the physical activity tired the children out, but rather that their on-task behaviour, academic responding, and appropriate motor behaviour increased after the exercise. Quite simply, their bodies were enjoying the experience.

Regular exercise also helps ASD pupils to develop in the following areas:

  • Proprioception: ASD pupils can struggle with spatial awareness
  • The vestibular system: ASD pupils can have impaired balance
  • Fine and gross motor skills: ASD pupils are often poorly developed in these areas
  • Social communication: a key area in any sport and within society in general. It also happens to be one of the most challenging areas in life for ASD pupils.

Furthermore, the effect exercise and fresh air has on mental health is staggering. A combination of problems at home, teenage hormones, ASD-related frustrations, too much time spent playing computer games, minimal sleep, and various other issues can result in pupils arriving into school in a fragile mental state. Getting outside and active is one of our first tactics in changing that negative mindset and relieving the high levels of anxiety. It’s also undoubtedly one of our most successful, and one of the reasons we base our whole curriculum on Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC).

Considerations and observations
Certain aspects must be considered when working with an ASD pupil in any area, and perhaps the greatest of those is the environment you’ll be working in. Consider the sounds, visuals and smells in the surrounding area you’ve chosen; sensory overloads are a common cause of high anxiety, so keep this in mind at all times. A Channel 4 Documentary on ASD (Are You Autistic?) compared the sensory issues faced by ASD pupils with ‘watching forty television channels all at once’.

A good example of a poor environment is the first PE session I observed when arriving at my current school. In a huge sports hall, there would be around twenty pupils and twelve staff – already a huge overcrowding for the majority of our students, who found the size of mainstream classes overwhelming. Any sound made would echo around the hall, magnifying it hugely.

On occasion, a group of men would be playing football on the other side of the hall, which trebled the noise levels in the room. The lighting in the hall was incredibly bright and, in a room where sport occurs for more than twelve hours a day, the smell of sweat was often prominent. It was also difficult to find a sport that all students could enjoy and therefore partake in. It was a sensory nightmare, which caused high anxiety levels: PE had become the part of the week that staff and students began to dread. For some students, more worryingly, it negatively affected their general view of exercise.

Following this observation, the PE group was split into much smaller groups. This means pupils are given ownership over which forms of exercise they enjoy and would like to partake in. Not only that, but it makes the entire situation more personalised; they recognise that they are an integral part of the session, which ensures they don’t feel isolated or ignored.

A wider variety of environments (parks, woods, countryside, gyms climbing centres, swimming pools) are now provided. Potential sensory issues are discussed before and during sessions, as it’s important that pupils learn how manage their ASD in these scenarios. Staff leading sessions have been briefed on how to make the pupils see the relevance, both physically and mentally, of the exercise they’re undertaking.

As well as this, the use of exercise is encouraged across our curriculum and not just in PE, meaning it becomes an embedded part of daily school life. For example, in one maths session, I took a pupil to the outdoor gym at the local park. We measured how many repetitions he could do on each machine in thirty seconds. We did this three times, and then used the mean to work out his average reps.

For both teacher and pupil, this is considerably more interesting than a worksheet. The pupil also learned about each muscle group he worked for each machine, the endorphins released by the brain after regular exercise – and the subsequent effect on his mood. Equally as important as the academic learning, he has a free gym just yards from his home, and he now has both the confidence and the motivation to use it.

Transferable skills
While I recognise that this might not be feasible for mainstream education, it could easily be adapted to work within the school grounds with available PE equipment. However, if you were to switch from measuring the number of repetitions to helping pupils measure their pulse rate, you would require no equipment (pupils could do star jumps, running on the spot), and you would automatically have the simplest of cross curricular maths and science sessions. There are further examples of how to implement LOtC exercise across the curriculum here.

The simple changes we’ve made have resulted in students embracing a much more positive attitude towards exercise and adopting a healthy lifestyle. For the first time, our school is offering an ASDAN award in Sport and Nutrition, which several students have chosen to undertake. However, it is still our duty to encourage students to challenge their ASD and rigidity of thought by trying new exercise activities in new environments that may present sensory and social challenges. As previously stated, the social, mental and physical benefits of exercise and sport for ASD pupils are so great that to not constantly be looking to develop these areas would be a disservice, however challenging the process may be at times.

If you’re reading this, the chances are you’re already an advocate of LOtC. I’ve found exercise to be one of the strongest, and most effective, LOtC tools I’ve used during my time teaching in both mainstream education and specialist provisions – it’s educationally relevant across the curriculum, physically and mentally beneficial and, in my eyes, one of the most important points to consider when working with any child: it’s fun! Pupils in any educational setting engage more when learning is fun.

About the Author

Will Price is Curriculum Development Leader at a specialist autism provision school in Leicestershire and has also taught in several mainstream primary schools.

He has led CPD sessions (in both mainstream and specialist environment) on the use of sport and exercise across the curriculum at several schools, as well as sessions on promoting the importance of nutrition.

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6 Ways to Make your next School Trip the Best Yet

(Image by Kevin Nicholson, provided by Farms for City Children)

Blog Post written by Justine Lee, Communications and Fundraising Manager at the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom

Your next school trip could be the most impactful educational experience your students will take part in this term, but it’s easy to fall into old habits when planning a programme.

You had a great time last year, you know what to expect if you go back…and before you know it you have been going to the same venue for 10 years to do the exact same activity!

Here are six ways you can make a change to what you do for your next learning outside the classroom (LOtC) session or school visit – without an unreasonable impact on your own workload:

1 Let your students lead
At its simplest level this could be asking learners where they would like to go to find out more about the topic being studied. At the other end of the spectrum you could involve them in planning the whole experience.

Helping to plan and manage a school visit/LOtC session can have enormous and lasting benefits for young people. Taking responsibility for themselves and others provides pupils with a sense of ownership.

This approach has been found to improve engagement, confidence and attitude to working with others. It also empowers young people and allows them to take control of their learning experience. After the session or visit, encourage them to reflect and look at how they might do things differently next time.

2 Look for the badge
Breaking free from a regular annual trip means finding a new location or provider, checking insurance, risk assessments, health and safety and emergency policies, safeguarding… but don’t panic, because you can circumvent all this by choosing a LOtC Quality Badge holder.

This accreditation is the only national award which endorses good quality education provision and effective risk management. Providers with this accreditation have been assessed and meet all the appropriate safety standards and liability insurance.

3 Don’t reinvent the wheel
A new venue or location also means a new lesson plan, new activities to develop. Take the pressure off and make use of the wealth of material available online.

Many destinations offer resources for all ages and Key Stages, covering the whole curriculum. Packs usually include lesson plans, curriculum links, case studies, tips and recommendations, location/setting ideas and activities.

These will save you time and ensure your students enjoy an engaging and value-added LOtC session/visit.

If you are using an external provider to help deliver the session, talk to them too. They will have information sheets and activities along with examples of what they have done for other schools, and will know what works well. They will also work with you to ensure the experience meets your desired learning outcomes.

4 Cut the admin
There’s no need to waste time repeatedly sending out and chasing permission slips. As school visits are part of the curriculum, written consent is only needed if the trip

  • has a higher level of risk assessment and/or
  • is outside normal school hours.

It is however good practice to tell parents about a forthcoming trip, of course, and give them the opportunity to withdraw their child.

5 Embrace change
The world around us keeps evolving, new opportunities emerge and no two classes are ever the same. Making a alteration to your usual annual school visit can bring as many benefits for you as the experience itself does for your students.

Taking your learning outside the classroom more often can help engage and motivate your pupils as well as improving their behaviour back in school; while new venues or experiences can give you added insight into your subject, which you can build on in future lessons.

6 Get what you want
Start your planning by considering exactly what you want to achieve for this particular student group. Think about what learning locations and activities will help you to meet your objectives.

It is always helpful to remember what you are doing all this for. A bit of time spent reflecting on the learning objectives will ensure that you get the best value from your educational visit. It will also make it more interesting and enjoyable for you!

About the Author

Justine Lee is Communications and Fundraising Manager at the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom – a national charity which champions all forms of learning outside the classroom, across all ages and across the whole curriculum.

You can find guidance on planning, running and evaluating LOtC experiences at lotc.org.uk.

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