A guest post by Lori Breyfogle
K-6 Elementary Math Specialist in Missouri
Imagine Learning now publishes monthly guest posts in order to stimulate conversations about K12 education across the country. Opinions expressed herein are those of the individual author and may not necessarily reflect the official opinion of Imagine Learning.
When you were a student in math class, how many times did you ask yourself, "When will I ever use this?" And how often do you ask the same question about the math you are teaching now?
When I was a student, my most impactful lessons asked me to use math rather than just do math.
For kids, real-world connections are important in the math classroom. Otherwise, they may feel like they’re only learning abstract concepts. So, here's how to jumpstart those connections by using real-world math in the classroom.
Play Fantasy Sports
Fantasy baseball stats
We love baseball in my town! To tie into that passion, each year my students and I build our own fantasy baseball teams.
To help students connect to math, I model data collection, mathematical operations, and reasoning and the kids love trying to beat my team.
Once you start incorporating sports-related math into your classroom, you'll find that math is a huge part of sports. Case in point: March Madness.
During March, my classroom always creates brackets for college basketball playoffs. In turn, this activity leads to rich conversation about probability, differences in scores, distance between cities, and much more.
But of all our fantasy sports activities, my students' favorite sports integration has to be talking about football playoffs. Students can reason with numbers at every scoring opportunity, create brackets to predict winners, see how win-loss records relate to fractions, and end the unit with our own Math Super Bowl.
Fun tip: Fantasy sports still provide plenty of opportunities to apply real-world math. What's more, students love making these connections.
Move It, Move It
And while we're on the subject, health and fitness are topics that can take extra class time to incorporate. Why not combine them within a math lesson? Just one or two mini lessons during math time can start off a year-long activity.
For example, students can track the minutes spent exercising, distances walked, calories eaten, and more. Health or PE teachers are excellent resources for these kinds of activities.
To use any of the data just mentioned, students can convert seconds into minutes and minutes into hours. They can also create graphs and charts to analyze their progress, and can set goals for further activities.
Fun tip: Have students estimate how long it would take them to walk to Disney World. Then, compare their estimate with a map app.
Waffle Wednesday is a staple in my classes. During my first year of teaching, I thought it would be a cute way to incorporate measurement into my classes; plus, I knew the kids would have fun.
I had no idea the kind of information I'd learn about my students--or, what they would learn about measurement, time, and fractions. A sixth grader had an epiphany about fractions one day while measuring out a cup of pancake mix using a 1/4 measuring cup. Fractions suddenly made sense!
It's also fun to collaborate with our reading specialist on shared lessons that involve cooking.
Fun tip: Not all cooking requires a stove or oven. Making no-cook play dough, goop, or even butter doesn't require a heating element or any fancy equipment.
STEM integration is an exciting trend in education. Most kids thrive on determining--and then solving--a problem. Building something certainly requires these problem-solving skills, not to mention math skills (e.g., measurement, time planning, area, perimeter, volume, mass, cost, and more).
Fortunately, building projects don't have to cost a lot of money or take up a lot of space. Students can be incredibly inventive even with cardboard or paper. I remember in college being asked to create a juice box with a specific volume. This was challenging to me both creatively and mathematically.
As I found during this challenge, the teacher can decide on the item to be built. However, why not ask students to choose a problem that matters to them personally? Then, they can figure out what to build to solve that problem.
For instance, maybe the line is too long at the Four Square game. What might a student do to make another one?
Likewise, do students want a kickball field but have limited space? Do they need to organize their school supplies more efficiently or fit a book box into a binder? All these are real-world problems that require a specific solution.
Fun tip: By choosing a problem that matters to them, students then build a project that solves that problem.
Participate in Service Learning
Students learn math through serving others
Students have been told that they can change the world, so let's help them do it!
Many service-learning projects include building something, collecting something, donating time, or fundraising--all of which naturally engage math application.
In my class, students helped choose a service-learning project that meant something to them. And for the record, their ownership of the project also increased motivation and enthusiasm.
Here are just a few of the math-related tasks my students were in charge of:
- counting money or items collected
- goal setting
- determining need for more supplies
- organizing data
- applying critical thinking/problem solving
- time management
Fun tip: Making a timeline to completing a new flowerbed for the school or a drying rack for the art room is a much more meaningful activity than completing a worksheet full of clocks.
As enjoyable as math-based activities are, they don't have to replace your other math lessons.
These activities can happen in small-group rotations, ten minutes at the start (or end) of your math period, in collaboration with science or social studies, or even totally online. Just be creative.
Math is really everywhere. And real-world math activities aren't limited to just those mentioned in this post. Think about what your students like. Is it music? Help them understand how fractions are used in notation. Do students like video games/ Help them use addition and subtraction to level up. Are movies their passion? Discuss budgets, timeframes, and location.
The point is--by applying math to real-world situations, you can use nearly every mathematical concept covered in first- through eighth-grade.
And, by incorporating the real world into your math lessons, you'll help students build boxes, not get stuck inside of them.
About the Author
Lori Breyfogle is an elementary math specialist at a K-6 school in Missouri, where she focuses most of her time on targeted math interventions and ways to support teachers' growth as math educators. Lori enjoys guiding math and technology professional development as well as working on math curriculum development in her district.
Previously, Lori worked in early childhood education for nearly ten years. Some of her prior roles include pre-K teacher, teacher trainer, center director, and curriculum coordinator. Her early-childhood background is clearly embedded into her teaching style.