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Count up to tree

Sarah Farley goes down to the woods to join primary pupils for a mathematical experience

It's amazing just what shapes and spaces there are in the woods at Conkers, an activity and discovery centre based in the National Forest in the heart of the Midlands. Once the children of Old Mill Primary School got their collective eye in, they were spotting circles, squares, pentagons, triangles, and even the odd circumference and diameter.

The Year 4 group was taking part in a Marvellous Maths programme, a new venture sponsored by Alliance Leicester at Conkers. Marvellous Maths is the latest in a series of programmes for schools, covering science, environmental studies, art, geography, PE, numeracy and design and technology.

Karen Moulson, head ranger at Conkers, says: "Most of the programmes have been fairly easily applied to our landscape, such as looking at habitats and minibeasts, doing map work or using the observation of wind-dispersed seeds to make kites. But we felt we could introduce more numeracy activities, even if it did mean importing one or two shapes in order to make a point."

Conkers is well prepared for bad weather, with a large outside canopied area and indoor areas if need be, but the object is to be outside. Gathered under the canopy, the children meet assistant head ranger Garry Jones, who warms them up mathematically with some gentle mental arithmetic based on the parts of a butterfly. Then the party sets off into the woodland along a path, stopping every now and then to take note of shapes around them.

"What shapes can you see from here?" asks Garry. "Look carefully. Yes, there are squares marked on the ground. What is special about a square? That's right, four sides with four corners all right angles. Now what about circles?" The children find concentric circles and stand round the marked circumference, with one girl standing at the centre so that the diameter can be established. Next stop is a flower bed constructed in the shape of a pentagon, which provides 10 minutes of identifying 2D and 3D shapes, looking at triangles and cylinders. Measurement is covered by estimating the length of a tree canopy walk using a human tape measure. The children stand, legs straddled to roughly a metre, along the walkway, the first children dashing to the back when they are needed to complete the chain.

"Fifty-seven and a bit metres," announces Garry. "We'll compare that with the class this afternoon, and with the actual measurement to see how accurate it is."

All the work so far has been in one big group, but in the last challenge the class divides into groups which compete to answer questions about their shape. They have to say what the 3D shape is, name one 2D shape face, say how many edges and faces there are altogether, and answer two bonus point questions around subjects such as the name of a particular triangle. The hard work completed, the children are free to play in the excellent adventure playground and have lunch either in the main building or under the canopy before departing on the Conkers train for a look round the indoor discovery centre. Here they learn about life in British woodland through the lively and well-presented interactive exhibits.

* Marvellous Maths has been researched by Garry Jones to support the National Numeracy Strategy and can be adapted for KS12 and, with more set tasks, KS3. Self-led programmes are also available, with worksheets provided at pound;1 each for teachers to copy. The programmes last approximately an hour and are usually for a maximum of 35 children. Teacher packs include pre and post visit suggestions and activity sheets.

Tailor-made programmes can also be arranged.

On the map

Conkers Rawdon Road, Moira, Swadlincote, Derbyshire DE12 6GA. pound;2.95 per child, one adult free per five children.

Tel: 01283 213731 www.visitconkers.comeducation

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