It’s raining acorns! Have you noticed that some years there are a ton of acorns, while other years there are only a few? You can incorporate natural items and cycles like this in your math lessons. Fall is an excellent time to investigate nature and use what it drops down on us- acorns, maple seeds, colored leaves, etc. to sneak some math into outdoor learning.
Use what is around your home, at the park, or collected on a nature walk to do some quick math activities across a wide range of age groups. Younger students can use natural items for counting, sorting and graphing, while nature provides opportunities for older students to learn about averages, size distribution, percentages, etc. Here are some ways to incorporate nature into your fall math lessons.
Nature Math- Preschool Through Early Elementary
With preschool-aged kids you can collect, count and sort natural items. If you have a large piece of butcher paper (a flattened cardboard box or an old sheet also will also work!) divide the page into several sections with a marker. You might label these with words, drawings or both of what you would like the kids to collect (acorns, pine cones, rocks, leaves, etc.) Lay this sheet down on the ground for a guide of what to collect and where to put it.
Give the kids time to collect their items. They will love doing this, one of the hardest parts of this activity is reeling them back in to wrap it up because they could collect items FOREVER! Lead a discussion about what the kids have found using questions such as:
- What do you have the most of?
- What are the biggest things you collected?
- What was hard to find?
- Can you help me count what you found?
Count the items with the kids. It is easy to transition this collecting and sorting exercise into a graphing activity. Draw an axis on another piece of paper and lay it flat on the ground or floor. Line each type of item up vertically to form the bars of the graph.
Grab copies of the picture books in the Math in Nature series by Lizann Flatt and Ashley Barron for other fun ways to think about sorting, shapes and measurements in nature with the younger crowd.
Nature Math- Elementary
With elementary aged students head outside with a ruler, paper and pencil. Choose something to collect, leaves work great for this, and make some measurements.
- What type of leaves are the largest?
- What type are the smallest?
- The widest?
- The most narrow?
They can learn more about their leaves by creating a leaf journal. Students working on creating line plots can use their numbers to find the distribution of different types of leaves.
Nature Math- Middle School and Beyond
With older students, the possibilities are almost endless. Measure off an area (use a large hula hoop to mark a space, or a large measuring tape- I love this type for outdoor math and science!) and have them collect acorns, leaves or whatever you choose from this space.
With this random sampling of items, they can complete a wide variety of activities including: make measurements, take averages for different species, count and keep track several years in a row and compare data, calculate percentages (i.e. What is the percentage of fallen leaves that have changed color vs. those that have not? What percentage of acorns have been chewed vs. those that are still intact? etc.) and the list goes on!!
If you are looking to combine some art with your nature math you’ll want to try this mathematical fractal suncatcher project.
My name is Sarah Benton Feitlinger and I am a science educator with over 10 years experience sharing science in nature and environmental centers, museums, and schools. I have been studying science and nature in one way or another pretty much my whole life!
Currently, I’m a work-at-home mom, a freelance K-12 science curriculum developer, children’s science writer and blogger.
I have a passion for making science understandable, and my goal is to make it accessible for everyone. My blog focuses on connecting current events in science to resources and activities for teachers, parents and students.