Math Monday::Outdoor Math!

I have a long history with Outdoor Math. My mom used to take me to the beach when I was trying to learn my multiplication tables, and while there she would draw multiplication problems in the sand with a stick. I also had a stick, and my job was to answer them before the next wave came in and washed the problems away. I hated math, but loved this game!

Now that the weather is warming up, my kids beg to do math outside. Not that they’re begging to do math…they just want to go out in the warmth, and so I bring the math with us. I’ve started up a Creative Math Club, and this last week we had enough kids to make the biggest number line in history. Or, at least, in our neighborhood that day!

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To make your very own record breaking number line, hand everyone foot long rulers and a wet piece of chalk. Wet because it makes a darker, more durable mark on the writing surface. Then, find a long sidewalk and have them mark a line with their ruler as a guide. Then, mark both ends with a hash mark and start again on either side. Once you have a line as long as you want it, the fun can begin! Actually, the fun has already begun, but don’t tell the kids that.

It’s up to you what kind of number line you want. For our purposes, we had both positive and negative numbers on our line. Many of the kids hadn’t seen negative numbers before, but they quickly picked up on the fact that they were the same numbers they knew, but with a – in front of them.

I had everyone guess where the center of our line was, and run to that mark (the numbers hadn’t been written in yet). Once everyone was on their mark, I took the middle of that and it became the ‘O’:

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Then everyone picked a side and started filling in numbers. Their guess was pretty darn accurate…the positive side had 26 numbers:

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and the negative side had 25:

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The variations of what you can actually do with the number line are practically endless, which is pretty fun in and of itself. This day, though, we gave the kids a dice and let them roll for a number. If the number was even, they moved that number toward the positive side. If the number was odd, they moved that number toward the negative side. The goal was to get off the number line in either direction!

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Sassy exclaimed this was the ‘best number line EVER!’ which is quite enthusiastic considering she’s never seen one before. Even though participation is optional in the Club, everyone tried out the number line…even the boys that were more interested in playing on the Wii or basketball (*cough* Golfer *cough*). A big number line like this, where you have to actually walk to get to different numbers is fantastic for kinesthetic learners especially, but is actually great for anyone looking to have fun with grasping number concepts. I have to admit, even I got a kick out of running along the line from number to number.

Some variations for this game, just off the top of my head:

limit it to whole positive numbers, and then count on: by 2’s, 3’s, 4’s, etc. Leap from number to number.
Shout out number problems and have the kids run to stand on the answer.
Have each kid pick a number and then have them roll the dice to see what number to add/subtract from that number. Play until they reach the end.

Have plenty of lemonade on hand…doing math like this can really work up a sweat!

Outdoor math

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4 Responses

  1. What a fun physical way to play with numbers! Yay!

  2. my son LOVES doing this – we make a line going down the entire walk in front of the house and go from negative 30 to positive 30 and he rides either his bike or scooter up and down the number line as I yell out math problems – he zips up and down the line to answer 🙂

  3. […] creative ideas for introducing young children to math concepts using outdoor play. Posted by Anna Gitman – May […]

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