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Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications

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April 24, 2024
Written on . Posted in Math Modeling, Fun with Math.

7 Ways to Explore Math in the Great Outdoors

Have you ever considered all of the ways you can explore math outdoors? Let's look at  a variety of creative approaches for taking classroom mathematics outside, discovering new and exciting ways to connect with the environment through mathematical eyes. 

1. Discovering Math on a Math Trail

Math trails are an innovative educational tool that blends the exploration of the physical world with the rigors of mathematical thinking. They are designed as routes through various environments—be it a city, park, or even a museum—where participants encounter different stations or points of interest that pose mathematical questions or problems. Check out our resources on math trails for more.

2. Geometry in Garden Design

Ever noticed how gardens are laid out in such meticulously organized patterns? That’s geometry at work! Whether it's the symmetry of a butterfly garden or the complex fractal patterns of a fern maze, gardens are living proof of geometric principles. Try this: next time you visit a garden, sketch out the layout on a graph paper and identify the different shapes and symmetries. Calculate the area of each garden bed or figure out the volume of soil needed for a new planting. This real-world application not only makes math tangible but also beautifully relevant.

3. Statistics with Step Counters

Fitness trackers have been popular for a while…why not use them to teach statistics? Organize a group hike and have each participant wear a step counter. At the end of the hike, gather all the data to calculate the average steps taken, the variance, and analyze the distribution. Discuss the factors that might influence variations in step counts, like stride length or the difficulty of the trail. Or devise experiments to determine how accurate different step counters are. It’s a fun way to bring data analysis to life, and it gets everyone moving!

4. Algebra in Orienteering

Orienteering is an adventure sport where participants use a map and compass to find points in the landscape. It can be turned into an excellent math modeling exercise by involving algebra. Calculate the fastest route between points or determine the optimal strategy to use minimal energy based on the terrain’s elevation and your pace. Algebraic reasoning becomes crucial in making quick decisions, and the race against time adds an exciting edge to math practice.

5. Calculus on the Cycling Trail

Calculus can be beautifully illustrated through cycling. Discuss concepts like velocity and acceleration by analyzing the speed changes over different parts of a trail. Use integral calculus to find out the total distance traveled with only the speed function over time or explore the changing rates of elevation along a bike trail. Not only does this provide a practical application for calculus, but it also enriches the cycling experience with a deeper understanding of motion.

6. Probability in Bird Watching

Bird watching can be an unexpectedly mathematical activity. Use probability to predict the likelihood of spotting numbers of a particular species based on historical data or current weather conditions. You can even create statistical models to forecast bird populations in different habitats. This combines quantitative skills with ecological awareness, fostering a holistic educational experience.

7. Environmental Math Challenges

Why not set up an environmental challenge day where students can apply different mathematical concepts to solve real-world problems? For instance, measure and analyze the water quality of a local stream using chemical tests, then use statistics to infer the health of the ecosystem. Or calculate the carbon sequestration potential of a forest area using data on tree species and densities.

Mathematics doesn’t have to be confined to the classroom. By stepping outside and integrating math with outdoor activities, we can stimulate curiosity and foster a deeper appreciation for both subjects. Whether through games, sports, or environmental conservation, the natural world offers endless opportunities for engaging, hands-on math learning.

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The Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications is an award-winning non-profit organization whose mission is to improve mathematics education for students of all ages. Since 1980, COMAP has worked with teachers, students, and business people to create learning environments where mathematics is used to investigate and model real issues in our world.