Think on your feet

7th March 2008 at 00:00
Maths is all around us, says John Dabell, so get out and organise your own happy trail

Developing a maths trail is an ideal opportunity to get pupils learning outside the classroom as the warmth of summer approaches. Numbers and shapes are all around us, so the maths is there for the taking.

The best trails incorporate a mixture of problem-solving activities that include as many children as possible. One idea is to make it a treasure hunt, where one clue leads to another. This could include a range of concepts covering the whole maths curriculum, or themed and tailored to a particular topic, such as shape.

Form a planning committee and decide what's best, but remember to include the children: they should be involved in creating activities and mapping of a trail.

You could look for different brick, stone and paving patterns (tessellation, symmetry), building shapes, playground markings, numbered rooms, directional routes, measurements and estimations or objects that show angles.

Typical questions I have created for my school span key stages 1 and 2 include these ones below.

A Year 12 activity:

- How many paces do you think the playground is?

A Year 34 task:

- Multiply the number of windows in Mr Archer's room by the number of sides the conservatory has.

A Year 56 challenge:

- What proportion of the school site is taken up with buildings? Express this as a fraction, a decimal and a percentage.

Do not make a trail too long and remember to include a layout and clear instructions, with open and closed tasks suitable for the full age and ability range.

You can create a school trail that includes photographs using PowerPoint and post it on the school's website.

Before going live with a maths trail, ensure you try it first to iron out glitches and do a risk assessment. Get someone else to do this; a fresh pair of eyes may unearth hidden problems. You could liaise with a neighbouring school and invite a class to try out your trail.

A well-planned route will help children see their own environment from different viewpoints and enrich their mathematical talk. A good one challenges, promotes collaboration, improves mathematical thinking and builds conceptual understanding. It's also a great opportunity to milk cross-curricular moments - for instance, how old is that tree in the playground and what is its history? It can be used as a piece of post-exam fun, as the centrepiece of a dedicated maths day or week, or as a fundraiser.

Maths trails take some organising but once in place, they can be enjoyed by future generations and easily updated, adapted and improved.

John Dabell is a teacher at Lawn Primary School in Derby.

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