Outdoor Problem Solving Activities KS2 – Learning Maths Outdoors
These are some ideas for outdoor problem solving activities for KS2 to help children with learning maths outdoors. One of the most critical aspects of teaching and learning maths is to be able to solve problems. While teaching maths in school, I found that it can become easy to get overly focused on teaching the rules and procedures for doing maths. These are essential tools that everyone needs, but the actual point is to be able to apply those skills in real life. Therefore, children must be given opportunities to practice problem-solving and make it purposeful.
I hope you find these outdoor problem solving activities for KS2 useful, and perhaps they will also inspire you to try other ideas. If you would like some other ways to take learning maths outdoors, you may also want to see my post, Outdoor Maths Activities KS2.
Nim is a mathematical strategy game where two players take turns removing objects from a pile. Each player must take at least one object per turn. The goal is to either take or avoid taking the last item from the stack. Children can play nim with a pile of sticks or rocks.
Ordering natural objects by different features
Children can place in order objects such as rocks or pinecones based on the characteristic(s) they decide upon. It might be longest to shortest, least to the greatest circumference or smallest to greatest volume.
Observing the sun & moon
Children can explore and investigate the sun and moon, including changes that take place over time. They can try to figure out some of the following questions, and ask some of their own questions as well.
- What time does the sun set and rise? Does this ever change? How do you know?
- Where on the horizon do you first/last see the sun or the moon? Does this change? How do you know?
- Can you observe the phases of the moon- how does it change? Are there any patterns that you notice?
Children can measure circles (such as flower pots, tree stumps or other circular objects found outside). They can measure the circumference, radius and diameter and then investigate the relationship between radius/diameter and circumference. What do children notice? Is there a pattern? They may even be able to ‘discover’ pi.
How tall is a tree?
Measure / calculate the height of a tree with the shadow & calculation method, triangle method and/or clinometer method. If children try more than one method, do they get the same results? Which method might be more accurate?
(ex. Estimating by height, clinometer method, looking through legs method, pencil method, meter stick method)
Different ways children can help with planning in a garden
Children can figure out how much space is available in the garden and how many different types of plants can be planted. Can they figure out how many of one kind of plant will fit into one planter box? Can they figure out how many different sized plants fit into the same planter box? Children would need to use their measuring skills to calculate the surface area of the garden. Then they would need to find out how much space each plant requires (e.g. from seed packets) and then determine how many and which of the plants can be used.
If a new planter box is purchased, children can help work out how many bags of compost would be needed to fill it. (They would need to measure, calculate the size, etc.) Will there be any leftover soil from one of the bags? How do you know?
If children grow crops such as pumpkins, they can do things like ordering them from heaviest to lightest. This way they might see which is the ‘prize-winning pumpkin’ in a harvest festival.
They might also consider how much each pumpkin could be sold for. This would involve calculating each pumpkin’s cost, based on a price of £1.00 per kilo, £2.00 per kilo (or whatever reasonable price is determined). They might also try to figure out if larger pumpkins (or other crops like corn) always weigh more than smaller ones? *The children will have to define what is the larger, longer, or wider circumference.
Children could get involved with selling the crops they grow. This will give them plenty of opportunities to use mathematical skills and handle money in real-life contexts. They will also need to plan the pricing of different vegetables based on weight, the number of vegetables, or selling them in combinations. Children could even try to figure out the appropriate amount to charge for each crop based on the cost of the seeds, the growing time, grocery store costs or any other factors.
If they do sell some of what they grow after school or possibly at a market, then the children can apply their maths skills to figure out how much each customer will need to pay when buying any particular fruit or vegetable.
Monitoring Plant Growth
See if children can figure out how quickly different plants grow. Can they determine the rate of growth (e.g. mm per week)? Which seedlings / plants grow fastest? Is it a steady rate of growth, or does it change?
*To take this further, children might also conduct an experiment to compare different groups. They might compare the growth or the growth rate of plants whose seeds have been frozen vs those that have not, or something else.
How many shapes can you make (including shapes within shapes) using a set number of sticks (ex. 6 large sticks and 6 small sticks)? Is there a way to make more or fewer shapes using the same number of sticks?
Planning and holding a bake sale
(Some parts of this activity take place inside and some outside. This activity can be linked further to learning maths outdoors if children use some ingredients grown from a school garden).
Baking for a bake sale is a great way to give children hands-on practice solving problems in real contexts. For a baking project they will need to follow recipes and accurately use measuring cups and weighing scales. They might also want to make larger quantities and scale up recipes by doubling, tripling, or quadrupling them. The children will need to plan ahead and calculate how much of each ingredient they need to buy to make a set number of cookies, cupcakes, etc. They must also determine how many batches would be needed to make 200 cupcakes if the recipe makes 2 dozen.
Then when they hold an actual sale they will be using their maths skills to calculate how much to charge people. They must also learn how to give people the proper change (just like selling vegetables above). They can setup a stall outside of school and sell them after school one day.
Organizing and running a track & field event
Children can get involved in organizing a sports day or track and field event. They can first decide which events to include and then figure out how much space is needed for each activity (e.g. measuring the appropriate length and width required). The children can then help measure and set up the activities.
Once races are held, that data can be used to make calculations. For example – for a jumping event, children can measure how far people jump, and after several tries, figure out if there is improvement and how much (finding the difference). Children can time how far it takes them to run certain distances, e.g. 500 meters versus ½ a mile. They can figure out how fast they are running. They might then calculate how fast they ran different races (e.g. miles per hour) and then figure out when they ran faster or slower.
Finding ways to approximate measurements
See if children can find different ways to measure the approximate distance between two far points with a meter stick and string. This might be the length of the playground or the distance between two trees, etc. Children might compare different ways of measuring the approximate distance such as measuring the length it takes them to take one step and then counting the number of steps between two points. They might also use the string to go between the two points and measure the string’s length. See if they can find any other ways to find the approximate distances.
I hope that you find these outdoor problem solving activities for KS2 helpful and it helps you take teaching and learning maths outdoors!