Math may seem like an abstract concept to some students, but it actually exists all around us in the physical world. Help your students tie mathematical concepts to their reality, while making math class fun, different and hands-on. Host a Math Scavenger Hunt!
This article includes instructions for two Math Scavenger Hunt activities – one for elementary school and the other for middle or high school. Printable, downloadable support materials are provided for each.
Math Scavenger Hunt for Elementary School
The scavenger hunt concept is simple: challenge your students to see who can find the most items from a list. In this case the list contains mathematical concepts such as counting, shapes, or fractions, as seen in everyday components of the real world. We’ve provided a sample list below, which encompasses a variety of basic math concepts, and examples of ways to find those concepts exhibited in nature or manmade objects. Download this list, adapt it to your students’ capabilities as desired, and provide a printout to each student.
The students’ assignment is to use their imaginations and their grasp of math to find their own unique examples of the concepts on the list. As they find items that illustrate the various concepts, they can either describe their find in writing, or they can take a picture of it. Alternate ideas include collecting photos from magazines or the Internet.
The elementary school list:
- Math Principle: Counting
- Examples: Find multiple numbers of the same object, such as: eggs in a carton, roses in a garden, or windows in a building. How many do you see?
- Math Principle: Addition
- Examples: Mom adds her money to Dad’s, two teams meet on a playing field, or the total number of windows in a building when a new floor is added (on a construction site). Represent your find as an addition problem.
- Math Principle: Subtraction
- Examples: A sale sign says $5 off, trees are chopped down in a forest, or someone removes eggs from the carton. Represent your find as a subtraction problem.
- Math Principle: Shapes and Geometry
- Examples: Windows, signs, pavers or bricks (rectangles), a ball (sphere), a plate (circle), lines in the cross-section of a log (concentric circles) or a pool table ball rack (triangle). How many shapes can you find, and what are the definitions of those shapes?
- Math Principle: Fractions or Division
- Examples: A sale sign says 10% off, 3 eggs are gone from the carton, half of an apple, or a section of an orange. Represent your find as a division problem, a fraction, a percent, or all of the above.
Taking It to the Next Level
Your scavenger hunt can end once the students have completed their lists, or you can expand the exercise by asking the students to explain how the math concepts were illustrated in their finds, either in a written report or an oral presentation to the class, ala show-and-tell.
If you’d like to add an element of competition to the activity, you can award a prize to the student who finds the most examples for each math concept, or you can have the class vote on which of their classmates’ oral presentations made math the most interesting.
Download Elementary School Scavenger Hunt
Math Scavenger Hunt for Middle and High School
We suggest focusing on geometry for the scavenger hunt at this age level and increasing the complexity by requiring that the students not simply find examples of geometry in real life, but also be able to articulate how a variety of geometric functions apply to the objects found, and make the related calculations.
Most students at this age will have access to a phone or some other type of digital camera to record their finds. If this requirement presents any kind of hardship, the students can simply describe or sketch their finds. As an alternate approach, they can collect pictures from magazines or the Internet.
At this level, you need only provide the students with a list of geometric terms (see download) and let them find their own examples. If necessary, the hunt can be preceded by a class discussion of the terms, or the students can look up any terms that may be unfamiliar to them.
Download our list of 20 geometric terms, adapt it to your students’ capabilities as desired, and provide a printout to each student.
Reporting on Their Finds
As noted, at this grade level the students will be expected to demonstrate application of geometric concepts and calculations to the objects they’ve found. You can customize the report requirements based on grade level and areas of class focus.
We recommend asking that each student choose a minimum of 5 of their hunt items and provide the following:
- A definition of the term this object illustrates
- A description of how the object fits that definition, in mathematical terms
- A calculation of the area of the object, the degrees of any associated angles, and all related formulas
- Evaluation of the significance of the geometric concept in this object. For example:
- Why did nature – or man – design this object in this way? For example, why is a honeycomb composed of hexagons?
- What practical concerns are addressed in this design?
- What would happen if the support beams in a building were not parallel or perpendicular?
- Why must railroad tracks be parallel – and do they truly qualify as parallel lines?
- Why must a ball be round?
- Are all baseball diamonds symmetrical? Why or why not?
- What is the relationship between the various shapes or lines seen in this object?
Challenge your students to use their creativity in determining exactly what is interesting, mathematically-speaking, about the objects in their list. This part of their report should be open-ended, encouraging critical thinking. You can also award extra points for students who are able to devise word problems that reflect one or more of the objects in their lists.
The reports can be either written, or presented to the class orally, ala show-and-tell.
The Competitive Element
Since competition often generates an extra level of engagement, you can award prizes to students based on a variety of elements, such as:
- The most unique examples of the geometric terms
- The most thorough evaluation of how geometric concepts apply to the objects
- The most complex calculations
- The most artistic example of geometry in the students’ photos
- A class vote on which oral presentation made math the most interesting
Download Middle/High School Scavenger Hunt
Once math has obtained real-world relevance, the concepts discussed in class may become both more concrete and more intriguing to your students. At a minimum, this activity will help expand your students’ understanding of the scope of math in their lives. For even greater relevance, we encourage you to tie your math lessons to real-world problem-solving, as well as careers requiring math expertise.
Post your own ideas for hands-on math activities in our Comments section.