Teacher inspiration: teaching maths and collaboration through real-world examples

Maths is all around us, in just about every aspect of life. But it can be especially hard getting this concept across to young learners especially since the age old wisdom of “you have to learn this now because you won’t always have a calculator in your pocket” rings very untrue in the digital age. Even though we carry a powerful supercomputer in our pockets every day, maths is still a fundamental life skills and by seeing its applications in the natural world, we can encourage young learners to appreciate not only its importance but also its beauty.

It is often said that bees are the mathematicians of the natural world. These tiny black and yellow creatures are vital in the reproduction of global flora and are also incredibly intelligent when it comes to mathematical concepts.

One of the amazing feats of mathematical engineering that honeybees carry out on a daily basis is the creation of their unique hexagonal honeycombs. Their tessellated structure is strong and efficient.

An idea for a project to show how shapes and tessellation work in the natural world is a student sized honeycomb. Firstly, the teacher will show students images of the bees and their honeycombs and ask the students if they think they can recreate it. Breaking into small groups, teams will have to work collaboratively to accurately construct their shapes and ensure that they lock together perfectly. An extra step in this challenge would be to ask the teams to then join together as a class to see if their individual honeycomb hexagons match up, of if their queen will be left vulnerable. The concept of teaching through real-world context is a great motivator to students, the idea of sticking a few shapes together may seem abstract and boring to them, but knowing that this is how the flowers around them are able to bloom year on year and how they get honey in their tea can be a very engaging experience. A collaborative challenge such as this also encourages students to instruct others to enthuse and engage, as students will naturally have to take on leadership and delegated roles in the task, they will eventually recognise that they need true collaborative teamwork to make their honeycomb safe and strong.

Do you know any more mathematicians of the natural world? We would love to know, so why not tell us in the comments below, and share your idea with us to teach about maths in a more engaging manner using the world around us as inspiration. If you would like to know more about the EntreCompEdu project and be inspired how you can teach entrepreneurially, visit our blog for more ideas!

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