Taking maths lessons outdoors adds up for children: ACU maths expert

Hexagonal honeycomb and three-leafed clover are among the marvels of nature that can unlock young children’s passion for maths.

And Queensland could be at the cutting edge of learning, according to Australian Catholic University (ACU) maths lecturer Bruce Ferrington who insists that taking classes outdoors is perfect for the state’s climate.

When not lecturing, the dedicated educator is also a primary school maths teacher and writes a popular maths blog read in more than 140 countries.

Mr Ferrington visited Brisbane from the chillier climes of Canberra to present a workshop at the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers (AAMT) Biennial Conference in South Brisbane from 9 to 11 July.

“Maths is everywhere in the natural environment. Children have an in-built fascination for nature. It makes sense to bring the two together and Queensland’s sunny weather and beautiful outdoor parks are ideal for these activities,” Mr Ferrington said.

“Play is a great way for parents to engage with their children and explore maths. It can be as simple as taking the children outside and looking for patterns. If you were to visit a preschool, you would see children playing and exploring their environment with enthusiasm and curiosity. This is what maths should be – playful, exciting and creative.” 

Mr Ferrington is keen to encourage others to his profession and described the maths teacher shortage in Australia as a “complex” issue.

“If you’re good at maths, there is little financial incentive to becoming a teacher when you could earn significantly more in other industries. The pressure of schools can be tough, including assessment, planning, documentation, behaviour management, parents, extra-curricular involvement,” he said.

“Australian teachers simply don’t get the respect they deserve.”

“But teaching maths is really fun because it’s so creative. I get to think about big mathematical concepts and explore ways to make them accessible for my students.”

“I get to play with toys and games to illustrate the maths we are learning. It’s hands-on and practical. It’s also gratifying to see students find their own love and passion for a subject they may have previously dismissed as being dry and boring.”

“Maths is used everywhere and maths teachers inspire a wide variety of future job roles including doctors and nurses, electricians, banking, plumbers, carpenters, finance/investment, engineering, payroll, accountants and more.”

“Teaching gives you so many opportunities to be creative, to pursue your passions and to help children explore and make sense of the world around them.”

During his Brisbane workshop, Mr Ferrington focussed on a series of tasks designed for preschool and early childhood classes, called miniMaths. People attending the workshop explored 10 inquiry tasks to consider how they might implement these ideas into their own school context.

MiniMaths explores mathematical concepts in the natural environment, taking time to play with natural materials. “Through creating patterns using sticks, leaves and stones we can begin to develop early concepts of addition and multiplication. Children are having fun with maths concepts while being creative,” he said.

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