“Math class! Math class! Time for math class!”

It’s the first day of academic classes, and I’m singing and skipping ahead of my students to fling open the door to Wayah, our art studio and classroom. I ask one of them to pick up the portable white board and hustle them outside again, into our primary classroom space. 

Eliot gazes up at me in amazement. “I’ve never seen a teacher excited for Math before,” he says. The others nod in agreement and eye me a bit apprehensively. I know what they are thinking – that I must be someone who is insufferably enthusiastic about the art of mathematics in all its forms, who solves complicated problems for the fun of it, who won’t be able to understand or relate to their confusion or disinterest. This is a common misunderstanding. Sure, I like math just fine, but I’ve had my struggles in the subject too. What I’m really excited for each morning is math class.

Here at The Outdoor Academy, math class is where we learn a new language for understanding how the Earth works, for decoding an essential structure in nature and science. It’s where we help the property team calculate the angle that the lumber needs to be cut to seamlessly replace the step outside our classroom (120 degrees). It’s where we find the ratio between entries in the Fibonacci sequence (0,1,1,2,3,5,8, 13…) and match it to the Golden Ratio (~1.6) and discover how these values appear in everything from the pinecone at our feet to fossilized seashells.

“This is way too interesting to be part of the normal curriculum,” a student mutters.

Math class is where we use triangulation to map and determine the dimensions of our lake using only a field compass and the distance between the edge of the dock and the adjacent paddling shed. It’s where a student decides to hold class at the forge and teach his classmates about equilateral triangles by making them out of iron (equal side lengths, 60 degree angles).

“Wait, this is fun,” another one whispers.

In math class, students become consultants, offering creative solutions to problems and justifying their rationale as they would to a project manager. They work together at the board, combining their ideas and taking turns talking each other through each step as they hone in on a final answer. They test out multiple ways of approaching an answer and shout gleefully when the solutions match. They figure out why some calculations don’t match and articulate their mistakes before charging forward into a new proof.

“This is actually kinda cool,” someone murmurs.

Another lesson comes to a close, and again I can’t wait for math class.

By Emily Cava Northrop