Creating Effective Links: Inside/Outside/Art/Maths (January 2017)

“Mathematics is a creative and highly interconnected discipline that has been developed over centuries, providing the solution to some of history’s most intriguing problems. It is essential to everyday life, critical to science, technology and engineering, and necessary for financial literacy and most forms of employment. A high-quality mathematics education therefore provides a foundation for understanding the world, the ability to reason mathematically, an appreciation of the beauty and power of mathematics, and a sense of enjoyment and curiosity about the subject.” 

National curriculum in England: mathematics programmes of study

Outdoor art linked with maths helps pupils to make surprising discoveries that help to reinforce their understanding and enjoyment of mathematical concepts. Children make connections between the physical act of making and the mathematical concepts they are exploring that carry through into their classroom work.


Examples of activities for pupils:

  • Make shapes from sticks by binding the corners with wool, string, masking tape or rubber bands.
  • Create shape pictures on trees/brick walls using double-sided tape to draw the edges and natural materials to decorate.
  • Create large-scale shape pictures on the ground using natural materials.
  • Start with a suitably simple idea (eg: triangles) but welcome variations: some children may choose to make 3d shapes/shapes with other shapes hanging inside them/groups of shapes/giant shapes.
  • Back in the classroom: make pencil drawings from memory of the outdoor shapes in sketchbooks. Can the children mix up the brown colours of the twigs using only the three primary coloured pencils?
  • Explore making triangle pictures with three colours in sketchbooks. (How many other shapes can you make by joining triangles together/how many colours can you make by mixing the colours?)
  • Create long parallel line pictures on large roll of paper. Use pencils, pens, paint, double-sided tape and natural materials. Ask the children to add some perpendicular lines with pieces of string.
  • Symmetry: make symmetrical pictures of shapes/insects/faces with natural materials, photograph.
  • Use masking tape to create rectangle divided up into shapes and colour in shapes with natural materials (leaves, bark, flower petals) rubbed into the shapes. Remove masking tape.


Examples of activities for pupils:

  • Collect five things the same, arrange in a horizontal line of fives (along a piece of string) and count in fives.
  • Use a stick (or metre rope) to divide the line of fives and work out how many are on each side of the line.
  • Collect palmate leaves and count in sixes or sevens.
  • Make rubbings of palmate leaves with wax crayons and colour paper with watercolour paints/brusho dyes in a contrasting colour. Groups of the pictures can be used to make multiplication pictures. (If there are no palmate leaves children can make pictures by rubbing the same leaf a certain number of times.)
  • Fibonacci (1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34..): search for natural things that have elements that correspond to numbers in the Fibonacci sequence. Make drawings of them in sketchbooks.
  • Other patterns and sequences using natural materials.


Examples of activities for pupils:

  • Use 1 metre rope as a guide to create line art to photograph: place leaves, sticks, daisies etc along the bent rope in patterns. (How long can you make your line – use different patterns each time you move the rope guide. Can you make your line curve round and cross over itself?) Back in the classroom make paintings from memory of the lines.
  • Use lengths of double sided tape around a tree trunk: stick different leaves/other natural objects around in single layers touching but not overlapping. These can be taken off the tree and stuck onto a large piece of paper showing how many of each object it takes to cover the girth of the tree.
  • Collect sticks/other natural objects and arrange them in size order.

Hints and tips:

  • Take lots of photographs.
  • Get a large cheap groundsheet.
  • Take an old towel to dry natural materials if wet.
  • Have a few extra feathers, leaves etc with you.
  • Keep some equipment for outside art use only, including: scissors, good wax crayons, paints. double sided tape.
  • Agree limits and boundaries for each activity.
  • Elements of many art projects can be taught outside and linked to maths.
  • Lessons can benefit from even a small amount of time spent outside.

Stockist of materials for teaching outside across the curriculum, including natural materials for maths:

Detailed lesson plans for teaching maths through pattern from Turner Contemporary Gallery:

Fibonacci: simple reminder for teachers:

Fibonacci: child friendly:

Useful artists to look at:

Andy Goldsworthy: outdoor art including shapes/circles

Richard Long: land art including lines made by walking

Agnes Martin: lines

Bridget Riley: lines

Paul Klee: shapes

A few useful items for outdoor work:

Stockmar wax blocks (available in many colours – can buy boxes of single colours):

Mercurius: Stockmar UK stockist (discount for schools):

B & Q 20m rolls of lining paper:

Cheap tarpaulin:

Peacock feathers (lots of stockists for these – here is one – much cheaper than buying in a shop but allow plenty of time for delivery):




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