Moving and Googling in Math Class


In his famous TED Talk, Sir Ken Robinson said this about ADHD:

“I’m not saying there’s no such thing (as ADHD). I just don’ t believe it ’s an epidemic. If you sit kids down, hour after hour, doing low-grade clerical work, don’ t be surprised if they start to fidget, you know? Children are not, for the most part, suffering from a psychological condition. They’re suffering from something called childhood.”

There’s something about moving that clicks with boys. And I know it to be true… because I was once a boy. I remember counting down the minutes until Math period ended and we got to Phys Ed. I remember winning two awards at my Grade 8 grad: the carpentry award and the Phys Ed award. I made the biggest connection in my learning when I was using my hands and being active. It had the most meaning. Twenty years later, I still see Grade 8 boys fighting to win the Phys Ed award and loving to work with their hands. Here’s a student tested and approved-with-laughter idea involving running to help learn Math.

A Numbers Scavenger Hunt

There is a common math expectation in Canadian curricula for Grades 1 to 6 that asks students to express numbers in different forms, e.g., numerals (23), place value form (two tens + three ones), expanded form (20 + 3), and word form (twenty-three). The focus of this lesson is to have students practise reading whole numbers and writing them in other forms.

  1. Prepare five pieces of paper, each with a title asking students to focus on a specific form, and a list of five numbers expressed in different forms from the title. For example, sheet one could have the title “Numerals” with the numbers 300+20+7, seventy-four, nine hundreds + three tens + two ones, 50+6, and the students’ task would be to express these numbers using numerals.
  2. Place each paper in a sandwich baggie and hide them all over your schoolyard.
  3. Give clear instructions for the activity, provide papers to write answers on and something hard to write on (e.g., clipboards), then group the students in small groups and send them off for a kinesthetic lesson!
  4. As they race around the yard and find a baggie, they open it, change the five numbers into the titled form, then replace the master copy in the baggie.

A variation to hiding the baggies before school would be to team up with a grade partner. I did another kinesthetic math lesson later in the year with my grade partner, Shawna B, on linking Transformational Geometry (grids and cardinal directions) with ultimate frisbee which was our June Phys Ed unit. Instead of setting up the game before school, we joined our classes in my portable where I taught a 15 minute mini-lesson and she went out and set up the game.

The Math learning outcomes must be taught, so will your students sit at their desks changing terms from page 408 in the textbook, or run around a field, working as a team by changing terms and learning from each other?

Finding Symmetry in Buildings Around the World

The kinesthetic lesson above is for the Number Sense strand; here’s a lesson for the Geometry strand. Understanding symmetry is a common expectation throughout the elementary school curriculum. It is all too easy (and comfortable too) to give your students a handful of shapes and ask them to indicate with “yes” or “no” to the question, “Is this shape symmetrical?” With today’s students so fascinated and comfortable with technology, why not have use them use Google Earth to examine familiar buildings around town or around the world to learn symmetry? Instead of meaningless clicks on their mouse at home, set up an experience where meaningful clicks teach Math. Here are a few inquiry lesson ideas using Google Earth.

  1. Give them a list of schools in your district and have them find schools and examine their lines of symmetry. In our district, we have over 110 schools, so asking them to find ten with one line of symmetry and two that have two lines of symmetry could be a start.
  2. Have them search out the twelve soccer stadiums in Brazil. You can find a list at Many of them are ovals and rectangles, giving them two lines of symmetry. Make it a scavenger hunt by having them find the one stadium with one line of symmetry (Arena Corinthians has just one). An extension could be to have them pick their favourite and do a report on that stadium.
  3. There’s something magical about castles and they’re often symmetrical. Here are four that students can search out to see if they’re symmetrical: Mont Saint-Michel in France, Schloss Moritzburg in Germany, Bodiam Castle in the United Kingdom, and Warwick Castle in the United Kingdom. Warwick is cool because the Google Street View lets you go inside the castle walls.

All these ideas can be searched out using the search bar within Google Earth. Just type in Arena Corinthians or Warwick Castle. You may need to narrow the search by typing in Southwood Park PS, Ajax, Ontario, instead of just the school name. Try using Google Earth alongside a handful of polygons to teach symmetry. The clicking part is often just more fun, since “Pixels Affect Perception!” Now, after this lesson, when your grade four student is driving past her school on a Saturday morning trip to the grocery store, she can now tell her mom how many lines of symmetry it has!

Google Earth -Schloss Moritzburg in Germany

For another Kinesthetic lesson I did with my grade partner Shawna B, or to get a free photocopy with additional instructions to these lessons, visit my Teaching Smarter website at

With our own three children, we believe that life is the best curriculum for a child to learn, and active participation is important. Everything that happens in our home is a potential lesson and we follow our children’s interests. One big way we’ve incorporated math and science learning has been through cooking with our kids. Our 5-year-old son really enjoys helping us in the kitchen, measuring and counting how much of an ingredient to add to our masterpiece, seeing and smelling (and tasting) as he works; it’s a full sensory experience. Then he goes outside and creates mud pies using the same mathematical understanding we showed him in the kitchen as he measures just the right amount of wet dirt. He applies his learning in play and actively partakes in his learning, all the while gaining confidence as both a chef and a student. We can’t take children home with us to the kitchen, but we can help them make meaningful connections and we can incorporate activity into our lessons.


Ryan Tindale
Ryan Tindale loves finding new ways to join technology in every subject area, and loves sharing his ideas at conferences and workshops each year with other teachers. He is an OT with the DDSB in Ontario, and started a new position at Southwood Park PS.

Jeanna Tindale
Jeanna Tindale has a passion for helping her three children learn through play, nature and art. As a makeup artist who also has a degree in social work, she is the founder of Licious Co., which teaches wellness classes on the psycho-social importance of self-care.

This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Sept/Oct 2014 issue.

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