When I googled “minibeast outdoor maths” and went on Pinterest to see the buzz, I was amazed and dazed at the variety of possibilities. However, on closer examination, I couldn’t see many outdoor maths activities. So I reckoned it was time to chip in from this perspective. Here’s some thoughts to help you think outside the box…
Before going on a minibeast hunt
Challenge your class to predict what bugs they will find and the quantity of each species
This helps children learn to make sensible estimates. Remember to check the date and weather. Less minibeasts tend to be found earlier on in spring. More tend to be found in the summer and early autumn. The children can check this hypothesis if they go for more than one bug hunt.
Make up a tally chart, tick sheet or other way of recording what you find
Don’t provide a photocopy sheet for this purpose because this runs the risk of removing the challenge, interest and creativity around the recording process. Instead, ask the children what they think would work best. Model their ideas. Chip in with comments that develop the children’s mathematical reasoning such as “Tell me more”, “Show everyone what you mean,” and “What do others think?”
Consider the groups and practical organisation required for a bug hunt
- Ask children to group themselves in twos, then threes, then fours. Who is leftover over each time? What group size do they think will work best for a bug hunt and why?
- Do all groups need to have the same number or can children work on their own if they prefer? How will the equipment be shared equally amongst the class?
- Who will do what job? Children may find it helpful to agree roles such as Recorder, Hunter, Equipment Keeper, and so on.
- How long will your class spend in each part of your grounds? Follow the OPAL Bugs Count guidance and see if your class can work it out.
When on a bug hunt
As an adult, you will be moving around between groups. Look for the spontaneous maths opportunities which arise, such as:
- How to count lots of bugs: model estimation; talk about the clumping together of bugs – once you have counted ten bugs, you can count in clumps of ten
- Discussions about probability and chance: What is the likelihood of seeing a stag beetle (NB extremely unlikely in NE Scotland)? Is it possible that a child will find a worm?
- Draw attention to the symmetry on the bodies of insects. Are all insects symmetrical? What about other creatures?
- Look at the colour markings and patterns on the bugs that are found. What is the purpose of these patterns: some insects such as hoverflies mimic the markings of wasps? Some minibeasts are camouflaged, yet others are bright.
- Observe the movement of minibeasts: is there logic in where they are heading? Is there an obvious network of paths or holes (underground paths) which the creatures are using or is it a random approach? Refer to the position and movement of the bugs: when they turn left, right, move forwards, backwards, etc. Use the language of position and lots of prepositions.
- Comment on the relative size of the creatures: which are the biggest? Which look small but which can stretch out lengthwise?
After the bug hunt
Discuss and agree ways of sorting the data
Is it best done by species or habitat? What about the attributes of minibeasts? Can they be ordered according to size or sorted according to family or type? Consider making data handling representations outdoors.
Reflect upon the findings
Did the outcome of the bug hunt match the children’s initial predictions? What did they learn that was interesting or unexpected? What does the data tell them about minibeasts? Focus upon how the use of maths helped everyone learn more about the type, range and quantities of creatures, and so on.
Create a minibeast map to show what creature lives where
Discuss the symbols needed to represent the different habitats and species. Retrace the journey of the bug hunt. First we went to the playing field. Second, we visited the playground, and so on.
Children can be introduced to the concept of counting groups of objects. This works well with a focus on minibeast legs and feet. Snails and slugs only have one foot. Thus if there are 10 slugs then there are 10 feet. Humans have two legs. So if there is a group of 4 children then there are 8 legs. Children can count the number of legs for each species based upon the quantities found.
Creating habitats for minibeasts
In the previous post I blogged about creating simple habitats for minibeasts. A range of opportunities exists when undertaking this challenge:
How can we measure the depth of a leaf pile and how do we know it’s deep enough to create a home for different bugs?
Stone and log piles
- How many rocks can we collect before they collectively weigh the same as 1kg?
- How many more rocks will we need to create a decent-sized stone pile?
- How will be sort and organise the rocks so that we know the biggest are at the bottom of the pile?
- The same challenges can be used when creating log piles.
Letting the grass grow long
Measure the growth of the grass week on week. How fast is it growing and how can you work this out?
Other minibeast maths investigations
Life cycles of minibeasts
Different species stay alive for different amounts of time. Can the children find out from online researches how long different bugs live for? Use this to create a time line outside using sticks or a rope with tags to represent each creature.
If you have access to frogspawn, or caterpillars, keep a daily photo diary so that children can see the changes that are happening.
How quickly do slugs and snails move?
Rather than prescribe the distance a snail should cover, see how far each snail moves from an agreed starting point in one minute. Ask the children to decide how best to measure the distance covered by their snail. Encourage children to practice counting the seconds, e.g. “One big snail, two big snails, etc.” to help develop their counting skills and their concept of one-minute. There is a theory that if you hum to a snail at the right pitch it will encourage it to move. So perhaps this is also worth a further investigation.
Introducing a one-metre worm
In a previous post, I blogged about Sammy the one-metre snake, who can easily metamorphose into a worm. Children can make their own one-metre worm who can then be used to find out what objects outside are exactly one-metre in length and which are less or more than one-metre. Remember that worms can measure curves as well as straight lines, so a woodland challenge is to find a tree with a one-metre girth.
As an extension to this, children can mark off each 10cm with a simple stripe. This can help children begin the process of rounding up or down to the nearest 10cm without being confused by lots of additional numbers. So an object may be nearly 90cm long or just over 70cm and so on.
What makes an insect an insect? This is a good opportunity to discuss characteristics of living things where art and science can be combined with maths by using sticks to create symmetrical insects. This can be using imported or found sticks. As insects are symmetrical, children can focus on ensuring that their insect demonstrates reflective symmetry.
I hope this post gives a starting point for many more outdoor maths opportunities linked to children’s passion for, and interest in, minibeasts. I would love to know your thoughts.