The sun is shining! This can only mean one thing for we brave and ever-adventurous NQTs – outdoor lessons!
My philosophy is we need to make the most of it, so I decided to take any opportunity to plan an outside lesson. At first it was tricky trying to think about how to use the outdoor space in a way that would fit with the learning objectives in this term’s scheme of work, but there are many options for developing mathematical understanding out of doors; measures, data collection and people maths to name a few.
My maiden teacher voyage into the leafy world beyond the classroom walls involved a lesson on estimation with a group of year 7s. In pairs, pupils were given a checklist of objects to find that they thought (no measuring equipment allowed!) might be approximately a certain length. This may sound easy, but you would be surprised how many pupils think that a 20cm twig might actually be about 5cm.
The first challenge was getting the pupils out and into the garden, a complex task given the route from the classroom, along the corridor, down three flights of stairs and out into the garden, a journey I not only had to navigate but also do so without disturbing all the classes in between.
I ended up feeling a little like I did when asked to herd some wayward sheep by my Scottish uncle, no matter how hard I tried to encourage an orderly flow in one direction there were always a few stragglers.
Once outside, it seemed the garden was the most exciting place many of the children had been in a very long time. The fact that they spend most of their break and lunch-times there was apparently irrelevant.
The hurdle once all my flock were at grass was how to manage the task in a way that ensured the lesson didn’t dissolve into 50 minutes of pupils running around playing tag or putting grass down each other’s necks. I quickly learnt the necessity of making instructions as explicit as humanly possible.
“Bring me objects that you have found lying on the floor somewhere” – “Please don’t pull bits off the plants” – “Please don’t bring back anything that is still alive” – “Please don’t kill anything”.
Setting the pupils loose on this task gave rise to an opportunity for many distractions; within the first five minutes I had intercepted one pair making a suspicious beeline for the shadows behind the largest bush they could see, dissuaded a group pupils from terrorising some visiting ducks by the pond (how they had ended up there was beyond me), and avoided having to explain why the three male ducks were chasing the one female duck round and round incessantly (I’ll leave that for the science teacher).
On return to the classroom we had a box of objects of varying size and a class of red-faced, worn out, happy pupils.
On reflection, how successful was my outdoor adventure? Was the lesson engaging? I don’t doubt it. Was it useful for the development of the pupils’ mathematical skills? I believe so, estimation is a vital skill and one which is difficult to replicate in a tangible way within the constraints of a classroom.
Will I plan lessons outside again? Yes; it will not always be appropriate or practical to teach lessons outdoors, but where nature can be used as a resource, it provides an exciting and memorable opportunity for deeper exploration of some key concepts.
Our NQT diarist this year writes anonymously and is a teacher of maths from a south London secondary school.