Math in the Forest

Myself and my colleague Tara McCready wrote a research proposal early this fall enabling us to potentially secure a Research Station day at one of Thames Valley’s environmental education centres.  Cross-curricular application and usage of the forested areas was a goal. We were so pleased to have our Research Station proposal accepted and booked the bus for a December 2nd day of learning focusing on both math and music in the forest.

We invited our instructional coach and a teacher candidate to join us.  We knew we wanted the experience to be like a typical learning day, just in a fantastic, natural location.  We broke the day into three thirds, just like our balanced day schedule at school.  We had two math sessions and ended with a music session.  Of course a hotdog cookout and hot chocolate time were ‘extra-curriculars’ for the day!

I am very motivated to show the value of iPad tech amplifying student voice in learning.  With the generous support of Greenlane Environmental Trust Fund, we were able to plan for a 2:1 iPad experience in the forest with my grade four class.  We intentionally planned to keep the tasks fast-paced and outdoors.  Teams of students armed with iPads had open access to a beautiful conservation area.  Follow up and consolidation of learning occurred back in the Jaffa classroom.  It was a tightly-planned day and we covered a lot of curriculum ground.

The first third of the day was lead by Meredith Routliffe, an energetic Instructional Coach in Thames Valley.   Her math task for the students was to photograph natural angles in the forest, capturing examples of all the major benchmark angles.  Students flew through the forest, actively interacting with trees, leaves, bushes and anything that might have an angle of note.  After lots of time to explore and digitize, phase two of this session included learning how to use the Explain Everything app to import and annotate the photos.  The coolest part? Importing a transparent protractor found on Google so that students could measure the forest angles with accuracy and share their comparisons to benchmark angles.  I was concerned that this task would end of being a ‘finish it later’ kind of session as it involved a new app. Wow, was I impressed how quickly the kids were creating visually appealing examples of forest math in no time.  Awesome!




The second task of the day was run by myself.  Mathletes Take Your Mark! Yes – something with a cheesy name definitely has my stamp on it ; )  Students were tasked with 6 challenges spanning all strands of math.  One final bonus task was estimating, then finding a tool to measure, the distance of the bus ride from our school.  It’s great to see students try to defend their estimates.  So how do you teach patterning, measurement and numeracy in a forest?  What can’t you teach in a forest?  The possibilities are endless and planning math tasks for this environment was a lot of fun.  Photography, video, and use of the Notes app was part of the evidence collection.  The best part? Students were having a great time.  They literally ran from task to task, iPad in hand, sharing turns with each other as blue skies peaked out from between trees and orange leaves blew across our ‘classroom’.


The consolidation piece for this multi-station challenge would be planned for a follow up day at school.  Using the photos, notes and videos from the forest, we used a variety of apps to demonstrate our thinking.  Chatterpix, Explain Everything and Google My Maps we apps needed to frame their proofs.  All digital products were then sewn together using ShadowPuppet – a great voice-over slideshow video app.  I took some favourite snippets and made a mash-up video below.  Check it out!

Math in the Forest – the Mash-Up video:



The last third of the day was something special Tara McCready and myself have been working on.  A performance of a classic folk song recorded amongst the trees.  Of course we would be taking video and somehow having students add to music video worth.  Tara immediately thought of collecting ‘found sounds’ in the forest using the QuickVoice iPad app and capturing images or video of the sounds being created.  Students became sound collectors.  They are currently working on soundscapes of the forest.  So cool.  Obviously, splicing some of these sounds into our performance of ‘Land of the Silver Birch’ is going to take the multi-media music video to a whole new level.  The kids had a blast collecting sounds and singing the song in a circle in the woods brought a sense of community to my class.  The nature-scape was influencing mood.  I really loved Tara’s ideas for this.



Is it possible to create a forest school in Thames Valley?  Sign me up!  It’s hard to think of curriculum that couldn’t be taught out there among the trees. The learning was rich and the behaviour management aspect of the job was highly minimized out there.  I was so happy to see student partnerships develop alongside an appreciation of the beautiful natural resources we have here in Southwestern Ontario.  I felt lucky to have such a day as an educator.  I’m pretty sure my students won’t be forgetting about it any time soon. Thanks for a great day at Jaffa, Dan.