Taking Math Outside


We are on a roll. In the last week or so we’ve done 4 Math Treks or math walks. We started with the Circles and Spheres. Then last weekend we went to an International Festival in Downtown Raleigh (more on this later). And we also got together with friends for a math walk at the park around the NC Museum of Art.

Today, with the weather so gorgeous and sunny and warm we went back for some more math. This time it was just the three of us – the Rocket Boy, myself and the Grandma. Going on walks with friends is great. But walking and noticing things requires a degree of contemplation and mindfulness. And that is hard to achieve in a company of very energetic kids, most of whom have been cooped up indoors (school and various extra-curricular activities) for a week.

Sure, they looked for and found some math. But it was done in the spirit of “let’s get this over so we can run around and play”. And I believe playing outdoors with friends needs to be encouraged at all times. Even if it means that the only “very important line” a child discovers during this time is a stick they turn into an imaginary sword.

What kind of math were we looking for? Points, lines, flat shapes made out of lines and other flat shapes, solids made out of lines, flat shapes and/or other solids. Dimensions and integration ruled the day.


Here’s a very important line. It serves to deliver nutrients to the branches.


And here’s another very important line. It means repairs will be needed soon. Or maybe it means that nature will start reclaiming this pieces of blacktop.


And here lines create a surface. Or if we look at it another way, small flat squares of air create a surface.


Shadows are flat shapes that are made out of other flat shapes.


A winding path becomes a very important line that leads friends to not-yet-discovered places. On the other hand, it is a flat surface made out of (integrated) tiny pebbles (points).


A huge solid sculpture is made out of flat shapes (slices). We had quite a discussion about how exactly this was made.


Lots of important lines and shapes here. The pool’s border is a shape made out of lines, but also (since it has an inner border of pebbles) is a shape made out of points.


An irregular flat shape made out of flat shapes.


A 3D object made out of other 3D objects.


A very important, even magical, circle. Missing it turns you into a litterbug.


2D shapes out of 1D lines and 0D points.


A 2D curved surface made out of 1D lines can be very comfortable to sit on.


There might be a mighty fortress somewhere in this picture.


Taking another break. This time – to make faces.


Flat surface tiled with flat shapes.


Deep in the woods we found this. Looks just perfect for a little sorting game. All the sticks go here. And all the brown objects go there. Of course, some objects are both brown and are sticks.


Another break to play by a stream, throw leaves in it and watch them float. Throw pebbles in it and watch the rings spread. Watch little fish. Almost fall into the water.


There’s a lesson on perspective and optical illusions waiting to happen here… Some other time.


Last find of the day – from afar this sculpture (3D) appears to be made out of points (0D). When you get closer, you see that the points are pretty sizable solid shapes. Another 3D shape made out of 3D shapes.


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