Since I wrote my last blog post, I have had lots of requests for more information about using pedometers for numeracy.
The Pedometer Project was fantastic.
The inspiration came from my love of outdoor learning, my deeply held belief in promoting physical activity, and my frustrations at teaching place value.
Lots of children struggle with place value and it can sometimes be hard to understand why. It is one of those concepts which, once you have mastered it, is blindingly simple. So, once you have mastered it, it can be hard to understand why others do not ‘get’ it.
It can also be somewhat dull to teach.
As with everything we teach, we try to find or create the most inspiring resources to motivate every child in the class. But sometimes inspiring resources are hard to come across.
As I was planning learning through Natural Connections for my P4/5 class, it occurred to me that it would be interesting to measure whether the childrens’ daily activity increased with the project. It also occurred to me that pedometers would be a good way to do this.
Then it occurred to me just how how much numeracy could be done with pedometers.
I was fortunate in having a Head Teacher who was happy to let me try out new ideas, as long as I could justify the learning that I felt was going to come out of it. I was also fortunate in having a Parent Council who were happy to fund a class set of pedometers.
So each day, every child in the class put on their pedometer when they came into the class. They wore their pedometer all day. At the end of each day, we used the data from their pedometers. Each child had a table to complete for their data. They did not just record their number of steps for the day, they also:
- Rounded their number of steps to the nearest 500
- Used a chart (which we had created as a class) to convert their rounded number of steps into kilometers and metres
- Rounded their total distance to the nearest 100m
- Added the day’s total distance to the previous total to give a cumulative distance for the week
Each child then had a picture of themselves which they moved along a wall chart showing how far they had traveled that week. This meant that they could ‘race’ each other along the chart each week.
In truth, the actual learning did not come from the activities in the Pedometer Project. We picked out the skills the children would need to complete the project and our numeracy lessons each day supported this. That was where the majority of the pure learning was done. But, the Pedometer Project gave children the inspiration and the motivation. It gave them the understanding of how their numeracy skills could be applied to something real and exciting. It also gave them the daily opportunity for reinforcement which allowed those skills to stick.
What the children learned:
- Place value – children who had been struggling to work with numbers beyond two digits learned to read four and five digit numbers amazingly quickly. They learned because they desperately wanted to tell everyone how many steps they had done.
- Rounding – rounding to the nearest 100 or the nearest 500 is a big ask, especially for Primary 4 children (7 to 9 year olds). This took time, but every child got there.
- Using tables and charts – they completed their own table, used another table for reference and moved their picture along the chart daily.
- Converting between metres and kilometres. As the week went on, the numbers got bigger and this got trickier.
- Using a calculator – the majority of the children used calculators to add their cumulative distance. We sometimes forget the skill it takes to use a calculator accurately and the skill it takes to spot when you may have made a mistake with a calculator.
I loved this project. But as with any teaching, there were positives and negatives.
- Engagement and progress. The Pedometer Project was fun for the children and it was fun for me. I saw the children make huge progress in their numeracy skills because they were so highly motivated by the project. Not one child ever said that they did not enjoy maths while this project was running.
- Differentiation was relatively simple. As children gained confidence, they became support for the children who needed more help to complete their tables. We kept a list on the wall of who to ask for help and added names to that list as we went along. Interestingly, this list was not simply a list of those in the top maths group. There were some real surprises in the children who took the chance to shine. Those who were more confident were also encouraged to do more of the tasks mentally and use calculators to check their answers.
- Daily reinforcement of learning. Although the children did the same thing every day in completing their tables and moving along the wall chart, they never tired of it. This remained exciting for months. As the children became more confident in their skills, the time taken to go through the routine at the end of the day decreased. Eventually, this was just 10 minutes of relatively independent activity.
- Opportunities to share knowledge. Other classes in the school saw the children with their pedometers and asked about them. So we invited them to our class and the children shared what thy had been doing. We also ‘raced’ other classes and staff members by giving them pedometers and by the children teaching others how to complete the activities.
- Marking time. The children’s tables did not need daily marking. A quick look at the wall chart and glance through the tables was enough to let me know how everyone was getting on.
- Time to create resources. I spent a huge amount of time creating resources for this project. There were pedometer loan agreements, tables to complete, reference tables and more. The wall chart alone took me a good few hours.
- The first few days of the project. The end of day routine at first took lots of time. There were 24 children in the class and at first, every one of them wanted my help individually to complete their charts. This improved as their confidence and ability grew. It improved a great deal as some children became confident enough to help others. It was hard going at first, but it was well worth sticking with.
- The day the children discovered that shaking the pedometers also makes the step count go up. Enough said.
- The constant marching on the spot to increase step counts. This could be somewhat distracting whilst trying to check a child’s work.
- The faff factor. The pedometer batteries didn’t last as long as I would have liked and it took a screwdriver to replace the. A couple or pedometers broke. One was lost. This was probably inevitable but any child whose pedometer was not working was liable to be distraught until the matter was sorted.
All in all though, the positives definitely outweighed the negatives.
The Pedometer Project was several years ago now but I still remember it as one of the best teaching experiences I have had. It is also a project I am very proud of. The inspiration was all my own, the materials were all my own. It was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun.