Maths for Miners

Victoria Robb, Education Manager, National Mining Museum Scotland, give us an insight into how they incorporated maths and outdoor learning into their programming.

For Maths Week Scotland 2020, National Mining Museum Scotland (NMMS) created their first outdoor maths trail called Maths for Miners!

Blackbird Publishing cartoon image of a miner with a speech bubble saying "Come along and try your hand at the new Maths for Miners outdoor trail. There's lots to explore at the National Mining Museum Scotland.
Image: Graphic courtesy of Blackbird Publishing, from “Maths for Miners” trail

Maths and numeracy had played a role in some of our previous learning workshops, although this was never the main focus! For example, we often discuss depth and length of coal tunnels, weight of coal carts, tonnes extracted, etc. When we worked in partnership with National Museums Scotland on the Powering Up project, we saw maths play a more dominant role as pupils recorded their findings from the renewable energy experiments. So, while there were elements of maths in our programmes, maths and numeracy were never “the main event” until now… 

For Maths Week Scotland, we created our first ever outdoor maths trail! Before I explain the why and what, I do want to thank Maths Week Scotland organisers for the grant we received from the Small Grants Fund which made this all possible!

Now to explain why we chose to do what we did – mining history isn’t for everyone, as much as it pains me to say that, but the history of mining in Scotland is so multi-faceted that it lends itself to a wealth of other topics – especially STEM topics!

Firstly, there was a need identified. Schools and family visitors had been requesting more STEM options and, especially from our Midlothian networks, we were advised that maths was a main priority. Secondly, we have a very large site, much of which is never really accessed or used by the public and we are great believers in the health and wellbeing benefits of outdoor learning!

Image of the National Mining Museum Scotland
Image: National Mining Museum Scotland, Lady Victoria Colliery in Newtongrange

Thirdly, with the ongoing restrictions and uncertainties due to the pandemic, we did not know when we would be able to safely welcome groups back inside the Museum itself, let alone if groups or families would want to come inside for an activity.

So, with all that in mind, we worked with the fantastic Blackbird Publishing to create our first ever maths trail!

The trail is called “Maths for Miners” and it leads you around the outside of the Lady Victoria Colliery, the home of NMMS, to learn about the coalmine and try to solve the maths puzzles along the way.

To accompany the beautifully illustrated trail sheet, and create a real talking point, we installed a life sized, illustrated Pit Pony, called Lady, with a measuring stick for calculating your height in hands (hh) and a train driver, next to one of our steam locomotives, affectionately named Mr Tramp.

Image of a carboard cut out pit pony and a cardboard cut out train driver.

Image: Pit Pony and Train Driver figures installed at NMMS

As part of our marketing campaign for the lead up to the launch of Maths for Miners, we ran a very simple social media competition to name the new Pit Pony. This was really successful and led to a lot of families getting in touch asking when they could come visit!

We launched the trail and outdoor figures during Maths Week itself for both family visitors and local school groups. The activity is completely free, and those wanting to take part do not have to visit the actual Museum itself, making it more accessible, for example, to those who may not be able to afford an admissions ticket. The outdoor route itself is also accessible for wheelchair users and prams/buggies.

The activity is A4 sized, double sided and folds in three sections. It has nine maths and numeracy questions of differing difficulties, aimed primarily at P5-7 age range but also includes activities which everyone could try such as symmetry, shape spotting and estimating length through pacing, hoping that if a whole family visited there would be something for everyone to try their hand at answering.

Image of the Maths for Miners trail sheet that includes activities and images of the miner and pit pony.
Image: “Maths for Miners” trail sheet sneak peek!

Blackbird Publishing included a wonderful map of the site to guide participants around the outdoor route, showing clearly the different stopping points, and return them back to the Museum. This brought the trail together and from a health and safety point of view it was vital for us – our site is very large and unstaffed outside, so we were able to mark on the map where the fire assembly point is and what to do in the case of an emergency.

Image of the Maths for Miners trail map that tells you where to find the different spots on the trail.
Image: map from “Maths for Miners” trail sheet

The questions were designed to suit a wide range of abilities, while being a bit challenging! We included division, multiplication, and adding/subtracting questions but also, importantly, ones which included practical elements, such as using your hands and the measuring stick to calculate your height or physically pacing out the length of the Undercroft. Every single question took inspiration from the history of coalmining and the colliery buildings themselves.

At the end of the trail, anyone who took part could collect their own Certificate as a reward. These went down a treat and we received a lot of photographs and feedback due to parents sharing photos of their children with their certificates.

This was completely new for us but it was a great experience for us as staff as well as our visitors. From feeding into the questions, fact checking them, to heading out on their lunch breaks to try complete all the puzzles themselves, it really brought everyone together!

Image of ex-miner Tour Guides, wearing orange miner uniforms and white helmets, standing in front of a train and holding the maths trails.
Image: Dave and Jim, ex-miner Tour Guides at NMMS testing their maths skills!

NMMS hadn’t re-opened long before Maths Week and, as we all know, we had to ensure the safety of our staff and visitors. From feedback, our outdoor trail was perfect for those who wanted a fun, family experience that was educational, outside in the fresh air and completely different from the norm! One family noted “better than a walk in the park, a walk at the Pit!”.

We received some feedback from the young people themselves. Evan, 10 years old – noted that he didn’t realise there was so much maths in the buildings all around him! His teacher went on to note that she saw a marked difference in the pupils’ ability as they had physical references to help them visualise the answers.

Museums have a wealth of objects, history and buildings to inspire us and our visitors. The great thing is that maths will always be relevant and we look forward to visitors taking part in our trail for many years to come!

You can find out more about National Mining Museum Scotland and their learning offer on their website.

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