I originally wrote this article for a Pennsylvania homeschoolers' newsletter.
ORIENTEERING ------------------------------------------------------------------- I posted the following summary of using *orienteering* for providing a base for kids' learning mathematics back in late March. My apologies to those who have already read it, but I know we have a lot of new subscribers. When I found myself running through the woods last Sunday intersecting a mental line segment that represented a dotted brown line on a map that in turn represented a ditch, with another mental line segment that represented the compass-directed path I was making through the woods (no trail), I confirmed that I have been gaining some physio-mathematical skills in learning this sport. The intersection occured right where I wanted it to.
A few things have changed since this post. The kids are now 6 & 3 years old. I am running the green course (1st advanced level). They have finished the "Little Troll" program. The program consists of their doing a string course or beginner course with much adult guidance (the 3 year old can walk more than half of a white course on his own feet now, thank goodness), and getting a Troll sticker on a card for it. After collecting 5 stickers on a card you mail it off to the US Orienteering Federation (address below) & get back a Little Troll patch to sew on a jacket. The patches are nice, and the kids have now moved on to the Chipmunk program. The courses are the same, but you start to get some guidelines on what to cover. Map color and symbol meanings seem to take better with our 6 year old than more geometric elements of map reading such as direction planning. That will follow.
I've also started looking at applying fractal geometry to the twistiness of woods features & paths through them. It'll be awhile until the kids are doing fractals, but I sure get to have fun with it. That's one of the things I like about doing homeschooling: I get to do reconnaissance into neat stuff to show the kids.
Orienteering is a sport consisting of going into the woods with a map & compass, finding checkpoints ('controls'), and punching a 'control card' to prove you were there. There are orienteering meets with speed competition if you're into that, although many practitioners compete mostly with their own previous times. Course levels vary in difficulty, from 'string' (our 2 year old can do this by himself, following strings carrying a hard-drawn map, very short course) thru 'white' (beginners, all on trails, 1-1.5 miles), 'yellow' (partly off-trails, 1.5-2.5 miles, still beginner, our 5 year old can walk one of these without pooping out) thru 'orange' (intermediate, 2-3 miles, where I'm at, not due to distance, but because finding the controls gets tougher) thru advanced levels (green, red, blue, up to 5.5 miles, controls can be VERY well hidden).
It's a thinking-person's walk, & fun for those desk-sitters like myself who can beat hard-core jocks by virtue of superior map&compass skills (the REAL practitioners are ALL good at map&compass, so competition for them degenerates to mostly physical prowess). Where's the educational hook? I first started thinking about orienteering-as-math when running across Seymour Papert's use of having kids walk & turn as an intro. to Logo (somebody else can post about Logo if there's a question, but basically is body-oriented geometry/computer programming that has locally-referenced linear (go forward N steps) and rotational (turn right Y degrees) building blocks, not global Cartesian-coordinate- disembodied geometry (no universal frame of reference outside the body). Logo was meant to map to kids' perceptions of their bodies-in-the-world, & is often intro'd by having them walk out Logo programs before approaching the computer.
Orienteering extends Papert's simple walks. There IS a universal reference--north is north--but setting up the map-to-where-I-am correspondence & using that to decide next move is VERY body oriented. It's not just an APPLICATION of math, its INHERENTLY mathematical. One of the most fundamental mathematical concepts is MAPPING, relating entities in one domain somehow to entities in another. Orienteering does this right up front. Most beginners, including 5 year olds, like to get the map, the compass, and their eyes all agreeing on north at one time before proceeding. There are short-cuts for speed--use the protractor built into the orienteering compass to get off-north degrees from the map without looking at the world, then set the compass physical sight using this reading without aligning the map--but like most math short-cuts, beginners should best avoid them until they are comfortable with the basic processes.
Beyond mapping, there is SCALING/RATIOS, English-to-Metric, PLANNING, domain-specific symbol recognition, physical fitness & endurance, geography, patience building in 5 & 37 year olds, after-walk picnics, ecology & botany (it's in the woods or desert), & history (our last meet was at Daniel Boone Homestead). With a 5 year old I keep the formal math pretty light, but when augmented with protractor+ruler play to draw shapes at home on off-days, it's a good dose of body geometry. When we get to the Pythagorean theorem or linear projections some day, these kids should have lots of concrete experiences from which to build.
For those interested, get a Silva or similar style compass (under $20), maps are usually $3-$5 per meet per map, inexpensive hobby, in eastern PA-NJ-Delaware it's:
Delaware Valley Orienteering Association 212 Westover Drive Cherry Hill, NJ 08034
elsewhere in US:
Ask your local parks/recreation people (in Phoenix the parks dept. sets these up) sports equip/camping stores, or colleges. The U.S. Orienteering Federation is at: