Numeracy: Animals in danger

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By John Spoonerclassteacher and freelance writer, Norfolk

The issues surrounding endangered species are an excellent focus for maths skills


Maths helps us to understand the natural world. It enables us to appreciate the weight of the rhino, the length of the whale and the speed of the cheetah. Mathematical data can bring these animals to life in the classroom by giving them a quantifiable shape and form.

Outside the classroom, mathematics is one of the tools that helps conservation agencies to keep animals alive. The figures are quite startling: one species of plant or animal becomes extinct every 20 minutes and experts predict that 50 per cent of all living birds and mammals will be extinct in the next 200-300 years.

A study of the fossil records tells us that species have always become extinct – dinosaurs are an obvious example. There have been periods of mass extinctions in the past, but this one is different: it’s between 100 and 1000 times faster than normal rates and it’s directly attributable to the activities of mankind. Habitat loss, illegal wildlife trade, pollution, global warming and over-fishing are having disastrous consequences for wildlife.

The following activities will encourage children to think about maths as a tool to be used in conservation work. How do we know how many cod we can catch? How can we calculate dolphin populations? Why is it important to know about gestation periods and the number of offspring that a species produces? Why is it important to make accurate estimates and predictions? What other information do we need? Discussion is the key to helping children understand the answers to these questions, and the significance of the data they are using.

Activities Y3-4

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