Can mathematics be used to allow pupils to explore the world around them and even the entire universe? We often tell our pupils to aim for the stars, but would this metaphor be even more effective if pupils knew exactly how far away these stars actually are? Many young children I spoke to on placement told me that when they grew up they wanted to be astronauts. However amongst the children that told me this many said they did not like mathematics. Astronomy is a subject that fascinates and engages people of all ages. The idea of an infinite number of galaxies and other planets is extremely interesting. So can we captivate children’s interest by showing them that within astronomy there is not only an infinite universe to explore but also mathematics? Can we as professionals show children that Space like everything has a story and show them that within this story there is mathematics.
The majority of people are aware that there are many stars in the universe (about ten thousand million million million stars or 10^22). Numbers are extremely prevalent in space and astronomy and this allows for discussion opportunities with children so that they do not even realise they are doing mathematics. This therefore allows them to experience maths in a different way that isn’t just from textbooks and is fun engaging and most importantly something they actually can enjoy doing . Boaler (2010) believes that children find mathematics to be boring ,scary and uninteresting. This attitude is vastly spread throughout Scotland It is often referred to as maths anxiety. I argue partially it exists as a result of many children not being taught that mathematics is more than just numbers. Mathematics to me is a story told in a variety of different ways. A story communicated in a secret language that is waiting to be decoded with understanding and equations. Children are constantly trying to decode the world around them why not show them how to do this using mathematics?
In addition to this another example of mathematics in astronomy is a light year; this refers to the distance that light can travel in a year. Light travels at 3.8 x 10^8 metres per second and there are 365 days in a year, However before we do our equation we must first ensure we are using the same units. we can do this by working out how many seconds there are in a year
365 x 24 (hours in a day) x 60( minutes in an hour) x 60 (seconds in a minute)
= 31, 536,000
Following this we then use the distance speed and time formula we teach in schools
d = s/t
3.8 x 10^8 x 31, 536,000
Therefore light travels 9,460,000,000,000 kilometres in a year.
This concept alone incorporates many of the mathematical concepts covered in the mathematics curriculum for example measurement , distance speed and time, decimals etc . Hopefully children will be able to form links between what they have learnt in mathematics and see the relevance of it.
To conclude I believe that astronomy offers children with an amazing opportunity to explore mathematics in a completely unique and fun way. I believe it offers a rich and diverse range of mathematics such as measurement , distance, speed, time and multiplication and many more. Arem(2010) believes that children have the right to enjoy mathematics and question why we do things in maths. He believes that by allowing this we can help children overcome maths anxiety. Therefore I believe it is extremely important to use astronomy to assist children overcome maths anxiety. The universe has so much to offer and will continue to be explored by many for hundreds even thousands of years I know for certain it is something that I look forward to exploring with my class both in relation to the science and maths behind it.
Arem, C. (2010). Conquering math anxiety. 3rd ed. Australia: Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning.
Boaler, J. (2010) The elephant in the classroom: Helping children learn and love maths. London: Souvenir Press.