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Routes and pathways have an obvious connection with trails: trails
take a route around a particular place following different clues or
rules. Of course we are most interested in Maths Trails and they
are becoming increasingly popular at different historic and natural
sites that are used for school visits.
Maths Trails offer huge potential for learning experiences at all
ages. The scope is endless and trails can be tailored to fit into
certain topics, or include a whole range. It is important to be
critical when constructing a trail or using one that already
exists. Are the pupils really challenged? We should be aiming to
improve their mathematical thinking, not just their observational
skills. The questions should provide opportunities for children to
explore and develop strategies for solving a variety of problems.
The change of environment can help to make them feel less
threatened and perhaps more willing to offer suggestions. Managed
in the right way, trails present a golden opportunity to enrich
mathematical talk. This can be done at all stages of the trail - in
the classroom preparation beforehand, doing the trail itself and
during follow up work.
Children using Victorian weighing machines as
part of a Maths trail at The London Canal Museum
It may sound daunting to begin to compile your own Maths trail, but
don't do it alone! Once done, the trail will be easily transferable
to other classes of the same age and won't require much updating in
future years. By liaising with colleagues it could also be adapted
for other year groups. At a recent Masterclass meeting, one of the
groups mentioned how successful a trail around the school had been.
The organiser, Avril Crack, describes below how she went about
planning and setting up the trail for Maths Mates in Sandy,
Bedfordshire. It is well worth a read and should encourage you to
have a go!
What can I say?
Maths trails take a bit of organisation, but I always it is worth
it. I have organised trails for various schools, aimed at different
levels of ability. The children enjoy them and their maths appears
to improve as a result of the activity. It's fun and stretches some
of those children who would maybe 'give up' on problems in the
My pupils were
quite pleased when they realised they would be leaving school early
and were more than willing to help me set up the trail. I had
previously badgered the caretaker, who was very accommodating:
letting me mooch around after school in the rooms that we would use
the following week. It's surprising the wealth of opportunities
that are available for challenging the children to answer problems.
Anything outside the classroom environment is always greeted
So, there we
were after school, rushing around blu-tacking, or using masking
tape or string to attach tags with questions to various doors,
trees, cars, netball posts etc. The children involved in Maths
Mates started to arrive shortly after we had finished our 'tagging'
and I explained the rules. I started the children off at different
places on the trail to avoid traffic jams.
were to answer 5 questions then find a 'question master' (an
adult). If the answers were reasonable then they were given a
letter of the alphabet. The main object was to use the letters to
create a word at the end of the trail.
All in all the
children thoroughly enjoyed the trail. The only down side was that
we ran out of time and weren't able to finish, but as each group
had started in different places all the letters had been collected
and someone was able to work out the word. Clearly if the trail is
repeated, we will run it when there is more time available.
Avril attached the trail and the question sheet that the children
used to write their answers on. They would be easy to adapt to
another school. Click here to have a look! (Questions to maths mates trail
, Answer sheet
If you're planning a school visit it is worth finding out which
local attractions already have their own Maths trail. We have tried
out two ourselves - one at The London Canal Museum and one at
Chester Cathedral, Cheshire
There are three trails in this beautiful cathedral: one aimed
at KS2; then two for KS1. They all include a plan of the building
with compass bearings and the children are led clearly through the
The trails for KS1 are designed for a small group of pupils
accompanied by an adult to assist with reading. One trail is based
entirely on shape, the other includes a range of mathematical
topics including estimation, number and measuring, in addition to
shape. There is some overlap between the two so your choice would
depend on the aims you had in mind.
think of a way to estimate the number of mosaic pieces used in this
The ideas used in the KS2 trail are similar to that of KS1 but
obviously extended. Children are encouraged to reflect on
calculation methods rather than simply arriving at an answer. Again
measuring, estimation, shape and number material are included, but
also identification of patterns, which could lead into emergent
algebra back in the classroom.
Comprehensive Teacher Resource Packs are available which give an
overview of the topics covered on the trails, along with any
pre-visit knowledge required and suggested follow up work.
Not only does the cathedral provide a wonderful setting to explore
maths, but it gives the children an opportunity to look hard at
their surroundings and learn about the different parts of a
Further information can be obtained from the main website: www.chestercathedral.org.uk
London Canal Museum
The museum is an interactive hands-on centre for learning about
canals. The museum was once an ice warehouse and ice was stored in
huge ice wells after it had been brought to the canal dock from
Norway. The ice was sold to customers and delivered by horse and
The museum has a good maths trail. It is unusual as it asks some
fairly tricky questions and could lead to some interesting follow
up work in school. There are fourteen activity sheets half for
upper Key Stage 1/ lower Key Stage 2 and half for upper Key stage
2. They are in pairs on the same topic ranging from 'At home in a
narrowboat' through 'Coal' to 'Symmetry'.
School parties should book in advance and the museum can provide
books and tape measures. The pack for the trails costs
£3.50 and can be purchased online:
www.canalmuseum.org.uk . More information can be found by
contacting the education officer via the website.
Below we list just a small selection of venues which offer Maths
trails. Thank you to all who sent in details! We are sure you'll
agree that the variety of locations is quite remarkable.
Wilderness Wood, Hadlow Down, Nr
Uckfield, E Sussex
Wilderness Wood is a fantstic working woodland in the High Weald
Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Anne and Chris Yarrow, the
owners, have been offering school visits for 25 years, and the site
is now well geared to receiving pupils of all ages, from pre-school
to university. A special maths trail has been devised and was
updated in 2005 by a group of local primary school teachers. Aimed
at years 5 and 6, the trail is a series of zones with activities to
complete. The trail is structured so that groups can do all or
parts of the trail, as time and ability allow and it is designed to
be used by the school's own staff and helpers. The woodland setting
is very much a part of the activities. For example, patterns in
ferns are investigated, diameters and heights of trees are
measured, and problems based on the wood products the woodland
sells are set. The activities are fairly short, to keep the pupils
moving around the woodland. They are relevant - maths problems that
are faced by the staff of the woodland on a daily basis.
Wilderness Wood provides Teachers' Packs for KS1, KS2 and
Secondary levels, which give details of organising a visit to the
wood, as well as activities for other parts of the national
curriculum. The Teachers' Packs are all available online on the
schools' section of the website. Wilderness Wood is open every day.
For prices and further details, please call or email:
Tel: 01825 830509
Winchester Cathedral, Winchester,
Contact Cheryl Bryan, Director of Children's Education on 01962
Bucks County Museum, Aylesbury,
Trails suitable for both Key Stages are available
Tel: 01296 337889
St Alban's Cathedral, St Albans, Herts
KS1 and KS2 Trails on offer
Contact Susanna Ainsworth at The Education Centre on 01727 890212
or 01727 836223
Preston Hall Museum, Yarn Road,
Trails available for KS1 and KS2
Contact Education Officer, Jill Gilbert on 01642 397590
The Dock Museum, Barrow-in-Furness,
Activities suitable for both Key Stages
Tel: 01229 894444
Chester Cathedral, Chester,
Two trails for KS1, one for KS2
Contact the Education Officer, Mrs Judy Davies on 01244
London Canal Museum, New Wharf Road,
Kings Cross, London
Activities suitable for upper KS1 and KS2
Contact the Education Officer on 0207 713 0836
Whether you decide to make the most of a trail which is
already established, or take the plunge and devise your own, here
are a few things to think about:
- Make sure you have enough adult supervision while the pupils
are doing the trail, perhaps as "check points" as Avril did, or to
actually accompany groups.
- This is an ideal opportunity to involve parents/carers in their
- Why not ask the children to make up a trail themselves, perhaps
for younger pupils in the school? With discussion and guidance this
could be a worthwhile follow-up activity.
Do let us know how you get on with devising your own trails
(perhaps you have some invaluable tips which we've failed to
mention!). Thank you to Lynn Holloway who is Deputy Headteacher at
Copp School, Great Eccleston for doing just that. Have a look at
they have devised for their school. We are also
keen to hear comments about existing trails which you have tested
with your class - we can pass on recommendations.