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Get Outdoors and DO the Math

Outside As students become anxious about summer, engage them in learning mathematics outdoors. Check out free lessons and activities from Illuminations and Figure This! or log into your journal to view selected articles with outdoor mathematics ideas.



Illum From Illuminations:

  • Tree Talk Lesson 
    If a tree could talk, we could ask it how old it is. Here is a mathematical way to estimate the age of your schoolyard trees. Students will measure circumference of trees in order to find diameter and calculate age of local trees using a growth rate table.

TCM From Teaching Children Mathematics journal:

  • Collecting Data Outdoors: Making Connections to the Real World    
    Carol G. Basile
    September 1999, Volume 6, Issue 1, Page 8
    Abstract: Describes a process of data collection with young children using the outdoors as a mathmatical context.
  • Bird Station Investigation    
    Julie R. Poth
    October 2006, Volume 13, Issue 3, Page 174
    Abstract: This article describes how the real-world application of measurement skills within an integrated science unit can strengthen the engagement level of students and improve their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • Trailblazers    
    Lyn D. English, Steve Humble and Victoria E. Barnes
    March 2010, Volume 16, Issue 7, Page 402
    Abstract: You, too, can design and implement math trails to promote active, meaningful, real-world mathematical learning beyond your classroom walls.
  • How Many Blades of Grass Are on a Football Field? 
    Christina M. Nugent
    February 2006, Volume 12, Issue 6, Page 282
    Abstract: This article discusses the use of a problem-based instructional task in an elementary classroom. After estimating the number of blades of grass on a football field, students write letters to explain the results of their research.
  • A Physical Situation as a Way to Teach Angle    
    Valerie Munier, Claude Devichi and Hélène Merle
    March 2008, Volume 14, Issue 7, Page 402
    Abstract: An experimental sequence to teach angle concept in elementary school shows how children abstract this concept from a real-life physical situation to connect physical and geometrical knowledge. Article describes the four-part lesson used in the study of 3rd and 4th graders. 
  • Designing Math Trails for the Elementary School    
    Kim Margaret Richardson
    August 2004, Volume 11, Issue 1, Page 8
    Abstract: This article explains how to construct a multi-level math trial exploring mathematics in the environment.  
  • Problem Solvers: A Visit to Your School and Solutions to the Walk for the Paws Problem 
    May 2009, Volume 15, Issue 9, Page 516
    Abstract: Problem Solvers: A Visit to Your School edited by Sarah Bunten, Brian Schad, and Joseph Georgeson. Solutions to the Walk for the Paws Problem edited by Mark Ellis and Cathery Yeh. “Problem Solvers” is a department of the journal that typically features a new problem for students and then discusses the results of presenting a previous problem to students. 
  • Investigations: Sun Catchers
    Aaron D. Isabelle and Karen N. Bell
    April 2007, Volume 13, Issue 8, Page 414
    Abstract: Edited by Cornelis de Groot. "Investigations", a regular department of the journal, highlights activities that develop conceptual understanding of mathematics topics.


 From Illuminations: 

Illum From Illuminations:

  • Building Height Lesson
    Students will use a clinometer (a measuring device built from a protractor) and isosceles right triangles to find the height of a building. The class will compare measurements, talk about the variation in their results, and select the best measure of central tendency to report the most accurate height.
  • Bouncing Tennis Balls Lesson
    Students develop their skills in collecting and recording data using the real-world situation of a bouncing tennis ball. They use the data collected to formulate the relationship between the dependent and independent variable in their experiment.

FigureThis From Figure This!: 

MTMS From Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School journal:

  • An Investigation of Solar Noon
    H. Bruce Stewart, Maria E. Reininger and Walter A. Smudzinski
    October 2008, Volume 14, Issue 3, Page 140
    Abstract: This article describes an activity done by eighth grade students using data that was gathered from sun-shadow observations. 
  • Making Mathematics Real: The Boston Math Trail
    Matthew M. Rosenthal and Clement K. Ampadu
    November 1999, Volume 5, Issue 3, Page 140
    Abstract: Students discover the mathematical side of Boston on a day-long field trip. 
  • Take Time for Action: Students' Geometric Thinking about Rotations and Benchmark Angles 
    Melfried Olson, Fay Zenigami and Claire Okazaki
    August 2008, Volume 14, Issue 1, Page 24
    Abstract: Article discusses a lesson that uses a problem solving approach to explore and compare similar figures using ratios. 
  • Laying Siege to Parabolic Understanding
    John W. Rick
    November 2009, Volume 15, Issue 4, Page 198
    Abstract: An attack on a domino castle using a trebuchet is one way to help students storm a wall of understanding while learning about medieval mathematics.
  • Quick Reads: Another Good Idea: Capture the Flags
    September 2010, Volume 16, Issue 2, Page 72
    Abstract: Students work in teams on a project that uses a form of triangulation to find relative positions of flags that have been set out in a field.
  • Ramping Up on Fractions
    Ana C. Stephens, Brian A. Bottge and Enrique Rueda
    May 2009, Volume 14, Issue 9, Page 520
    Abstract: This article describes a technology-based and hands-on instructional intervention designed to advance middle school students’ understandings of fractions.


Illum From Illuminations:
  • Human Conics Lesson
    In this lesson students use sidewalk chalk and rope to illustrate the locus definitions of ellipses and parabolas. Kinesthetics, teamwork, and problem solving are stressed as students take on the role of focus, directrix, and point on the conic, and figure out how to construct the shape.

mt From Mathematics Teacher journal:

  • Cooking with Quadratics
    Luajean N. Bryan
    November 2010, Volume 104, Issue 4, Page 308
    Abstract: Using basic properties of a parabola, students collect and analyze temperature data and construct a three-dimensional model from a quadratic equation—to cook marshmallows!
  • Poles, Parking Lots, and Mount Piton: Classroom Activities that Combine Astronomy, History, and Mathematics
    Seán P. Madden, Jocelyn M. Comstock and James P. Downing
    September 2006, Volume 100, Issue 2, Page 94
    Abstract: This article describes how a series of lessons might be used to allow students to discover the size of the Earth, the distance to the Moon, the size of the Moon, and the altitude of Mount Piton on the Moon. Measurement with a sextant, principles of geometry and trigonometry, and historically important scientists and mathematicians are discussed.
  • Technology Tips: Why Are Shot Puts Thrown at 31 degrees? Using Autograph for Applications of the Parabola
    Douglas Butler
    May 2010, Volume 103, Issue 9, Page 689
    Abstract: Edited by Kathleen Lynch-Davis and Tracy Goodson-Espy. Why is the angle of elevation for a shot-put 31 degrees and not 45? The author answers this and other questions.
  • Parabolas under Pressure
    Seán P. Madden
    May 2009, Volume 102, Issue 9, Page 660
    Abstract: The author and his algebra 1 students explore the quadratic behavior behind the parabolic shape of fountains at the local family splash park. In this hands-on discovery project, students gathered data on and used graphing calculators to analysis of the beautiful symmetry of these fountains. This experience served as a capstone project for a unit on quadratic equations. 
  • How Far Up Am I? The Mathematics of Stadium Seating
    Rebecca McGraw, David Romero and Robert Krueger
    November 2006, Volume 100, Issue 4, Page 248
    Abstract: This article describes a lesson in which students collect data related to their school's stadium seats and use this data to create tables, draw graphs, and write equations.
  • The Human Body’s Built-In Range Finder: The Thumb Method of Indirect Distance Measurement
    Michael Wong
    May 2006, Volume 99, Issue 9, Page 622
    Abstract: Students get a fun challenge from puzzling over an old, seemingly magical distance measurement technique. 
  • Projects: The National Math Trail
    Racquel Skolnik
    January 2002, Volume 95, Issue 1, Page 78
    Abstract: During the past few school years, teachers and students across the country have been taking virtual walks along the National Math Trail. The K-12 Internet-based project invites students and teachers to submit community-based mathematics problems, along with photographs, illustrations, audio or video content, or Web pages. These submissions are posted to the National Math Trail map throughout the year. International submissions are also being solicited, and appropriate maps are created.



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