Real Maths Running

At the bottom of our road, only 100 metres away from home, is a park surrounded by bushland. And winding through the bush are fire trails and tracks where the girls and I run. A few times a week, we head towards the gum trees to enjoy some exercise.

We usually run along the same circuit. We have made up names for different points along the route: We start at the pits (where we leave our water bottles) and then head along the track to the tumbledown, past the beach, the ocean and around the corner to the bottom straight. We climb Mt Everest, negotiate our way around the muddy puddle before pounding along the top straight. A turn to the left and we can see the tree loop. Around and under the trees and we are back to the pits. One lap completed.

We really enjoy running. The girls and I enjoy spending time together. We’re a team.Running has certainly increased our fitness. But it has done something else. It has also improved our maths skills. While our bodies are busy flying along the trails, our minds are occupied too … with maths problems.

It began like this…

One day we got curious: exactly how far were we running each day? We asked Andy (who is a teacher) to bring home the measuring wheel from his school. Then we walked around the tracks pushing it in front of us as it notched up the metres. One circuit, give or take a metre or so, equals 600m.

Once we had this information, a whole world of mental calculations opened up in front of us:

“Mt Everest is halfway round, so it’s 300m from the pits.”

“If I run 6 laps today, I’ll do 6 X 600m… 3600m… 3.6m.”

“Wow! We ran 10 laps. Do you realise that’s 6K?”

“You ran 8K? How did you do that?”

“I ran 13 laps which is 7.8K, and then I ran a few extra tree loops to make sure I did 8K altogether.”

“How many more laps are you going to run today?”

“I want to run 3K more. That’s 5 more laps.”

“I’ve run 4.2 K. 1.8K to go until I get to 6K. That’s 3 more laps!”

Over the winter, we ran inside on the treadmill, and this gave everyone a new opportunity to practise some maths. The girls soon became very familiar with decimals:

“I ran 5.5K today.”

“I changed the speed every 100 metres.” The numbers moved from 0.1 to 0.2 to 0.3…

“If I increase the incline by 1, every 200 m, I will get to an incline of 5 by the time I’ve run 1K.”

The girls all have a very concrete idea of what 1 metre, 100 metres and 1 kilometre look like. We can even visualise 5K and 6K.

“We ran 5K. That’s the same distance as running down to the next village. One kilometre more and we’d have made it to the freeway.”

“In 3 days we ran 18K each. We could have run all the way to town and out the other side if we had the energy to run that all in one go.”

Now that we are all able to run a non-stop 6K, we want to increase our speed. Our mental calculations have moved to a new level: they now include a time factor. We’ve also been trying to convert beats per minute (of our running music) to kms/hr.

Years ago, my girls had a kindy maths workbook. In one section was a question that involved comparing lengths. There was a picture of a skyscraper, one of a house and another of a giraffe. The question said: “Put a cross on the tallest object.” There was one problem: the pictures weren’t drawn to scale, and the giraffe extended up the page more than the skyscraper. So my children crossed the giraffe which was technically right but also completely wrong. Workbooks aren’t always very helpful in teaching about the real world.

How much better it is to go out and experience maths, to see particular lengths with your eyes, pace them with your feet, experience the feeling of walking at 5km/hr and running at 10K/hr… Most importantly, isn’t it better to actually use maths in a real situation, instead of calculating made up problems in a workbook?

So the girls have been running. And they’ve also been working on their maths…units of length, speed, decimals, multiplication, addition and subtraction, mental calculations… Hey! That looks good. I think I might go and record all that maths in my records book.Now you are probably not interested in running like us. So I don’t really expect anyone to get excited by all my running calculations. I just listed them to illustrate the following point:

There are so many ways we can expose our children to maths in the real world. They can experience it rather than just read about it. And when they actually use maths, they will learn it and enjoy it. And they will never have to say, “Why do we have to learn all this maths, Mum?”

I hope you’ve also been experiencing some interesting real world maths. If you haven’t, look around. I’m sure you’ll soon discover lots of opportunities to expose your children to it…

Maths is everywhere.

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  1. Reply

    We find the same, Sue. Our children have learnt Maths through sewing, knitting, house renovating, cooking, driving and so much more. We'll have to apply your running Maths to swimming. The girls and I like to swim 50 laps which is 500m. If we start timing it, like you, there's a lot more Maths to learn, isn't there?

    Our girls are enjoying the workbooks, at the moment, but it seems to be happening only after they understand the concepts in a more relevant way.

    God bless, Sue:-)

    1. Reply


      When you start to think about the maths of your swimming, I bet you will start to challenge yourselves to swim further and faster!

      I think that filling in workbooks can be enjoyable for some children. Working through the problems is an exercise in thinking and I know I get real pleasure when I work out the correct answers! To me, it's a bit like doing puzzles. For children, experiencing the maths in a concrete way is also necessary for understanding as you said.

      Thanks for your comment!

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