Using nets and turtle eggs to take maths outside the classroom

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Researchers say that to make maths more engaging, teachers need to think outside of the classroom.

This short read and associated podcast could be used to help inspire you to integrate maths in to your STEM lessons and make it relevant to all pupils.

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Educators think the key to making maths engaging is to take it outside the classroom.

There’s no denying the importance of maths. After all, it’s behind almost everything we do in society. However, the number of students who study it into the later years of high school and university are dwindling.

This has led many educators to suggest that the key is to take maths outside of the classroom and into student’s everyday lives.

By taking maths outside of the classroom, educators can tailor the maths to fit in with a student’s family, community and environment. Make it relevant and it’ll increase interest, they say.

Maths that fits with the student

This effect has been revealed in ‘Thinking outside the classroom‘  a Podclass series episode from the Queensland University of Technology

Bronwyn Ewing worked with 17 schools in the Torres Strait Islands, and says that communities want maths to be connected to their context and employment on the island.

“We had an elder come in and he was teaching the students how to make a canoe, and of course the big question was, how do you know that your canoe, when you paddle, is going to go in a straight line? And of course, it was there that we had to start exploring the mathematics that’s tied in.”

This context-driven approach to maths went further than canoe paddles.

Across the islands, fishing is a main source of food and income for many communities. This lead Ewing and her class to look at the mathematics behind fishing nets.

“What we did is we looked at nets for catching different sea creatures. Of course, when you think about prawns, obviously, you don’t want a great big area in terms of the internal space of the hole in the net. So, we explored what size net would we actually need for the prawns?”

“There is a far richer story that comes with the nets, than what there is with a worksheet that’s printed in black and white.”

Teachers have to work at contextualised teaching

However, Ewing warns that contextualised teaching is something that needs to be worked at and that it is often too easy for a teacher to drop back to a worksheet or textbook.

“The issue is that teachers are not robust in their context knowledge and their pedagogical content knowledge. That could be a reason why they drop back to worksheets and textbooks.”

“I think with self-awareness, with understanding the world around us and then seeing how mathematics are used. The example about the child who comes to school, but they have milked the cows, they have done this, they have done that. Look at the mathematics they have actually used before coming to school,” Ewing says.

Listen to Bronwyn’s experiences in the Torres Strait Island in her QUT’s  Podclass epiisode here.

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