The fact is, we all use math in everyday applications whether we're aware of it or not. If you look hard enough, you'll see math emerge from some of the most unlikely places.
Mathematics is the universal language of our environment, helping mankind explain and create. From playing games to playing music, math is vital to helping students fine tune their creativity and turn their dreams into reality.
When am I ever going to use math?
Variations of this question have echoed through the halls of math classrooms everywhere. Students often wonder if, when, and how they will ever use math in "real life" situations.
The truth is that we use math all the time! Sure, unless you're an engineer or an actuary, you may not use some of the more abstract mathematical concepts but the underlying skills developed in math classrooms resonate throughout a student's lifetime and often resurface to help solve various real-world or work-related problems--sometimes years down the line.
Ask any contractor or construction worker--they'll tell you just how important math is when it comes to building anything. To create something of lasting value out of raw materials requires creativity, the right set of tools, and a broad range of mathematics.
Figuring the total amount of concrete needed for a slab; accurately measuring lengths, widths, and angles; and estimating project costs are just a few of the many cases in which math is necessary for real-life home improvement projects.
Whether students work in construction jobs in the future or own a home, having the ability to do minor home improvements will save a lot of money and provide a sense of accomplishment and self-reliance.
Teacher Tip: Consider incorporating a small building project in the classroom--like a simple house out of cardboard boxes or a small wooden boat from a kit--to reteach math-related skills such as measuring, estimating, angles, and following instructions.
One of the more obvious places to find people using math in everyday life is at your neighborhood grocery store. Grocery shopping requires a broad range of math knowledge from multiplication to estimation and percentages.
Each time you calculate the price per unit, weigh produce, figure percentage discounts, and estimate the final price, you're using math in your shopping experience.
Teacher Tip: Encourage students to play math challenges at the grocery store with their family. For example, they can estimate the total cost of all groceries prior to checkout. For a greater challenge, encourage students to incorporate coupons, sales, and adjusted pricing for bulk items. Your little bargain shoppers will thank you later when they’re saving money on their own groceries.
Teacher Tip #2: You could also organize a field trip to the grocery store--with the help of a few parents working with smaller student groups--making lists and pricing out items ahead of time, that your class can then use to cook with (see below)!
More math can be found in the kitchen than anywhere else in the house. Cooking and baking are sciences all their own and can be some of the most rewarding (and delicious) ways of introducing children to mathematics.
After all, recipes are really just mathematical algorithms or self-contained, step-by-step sets of operations to be performed. The proof is in the pudding!
Working in the kitchen requires a wide range of mathematical knowledge, including but not limited to:
- measuring ingredients to follow a recipe
- multiplying / dividing fractions to account for more or less than a single batch
- converting a recipe from Celsius to Fahrenheit
- converting a recipe from metric (mL) to US standard units (teaspoon, tablespoon, cups)
- calculating cooking time per each item and adjusting accordingly
- calculating pounds per hour of required cooking time
- understanding ratios and proportions, particularly in baking (ex. the recipe calls for 1 egg and 2 cups of flour, then the ratio of eggs to flour is 1:2).
Following a recipe can sometimes be tricky, especially if conversions are necessary. Conversions are an important part of following recipes when they use Celsius or the metric system, and students can find doing the math a fun part of the cooking experience.
Here are just a few useful measurement conversions for the kitchen:
Celsius to Fahrenheit Conversion
Ex. The recipe calls for the oven to be set at 220°C, but yours is labeled by Fahrenheit. To convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit in this recipe, follow the following formula:
Formula: °C x 9/5 + 32 = °F
220 x 9/5 + 32 = °F
396 + 32 = 428°F
Metric to US Standard Unit Conversion
1 US legal cup = 240 mL
1 US tablespoon = 14.79 mL
1 US teaspoon = 4.92 mL
1 US fluid ounce = 29.57 mL
Teacher tip: Cook in class! Simple projects like no-bake cookies or snack mixes that require measuring and mixing but no potentially dangerous activities like ovens or knives can be fun while reinforcing math concepts. Plus you get to eat yummy food together! Kids (and adults!) love that kind of math!
Math comes in handy when traveling.
Think of it: when you travel, math comes along for the ride--from estimating the amount of fuel you’ll need to planning out a trip based on miles per hour and distance traveled. Calculating fuel usage is crucial to long distance travel. Without it, you may find yourself stranded without gas or on the road for much longer than anticipated. You may also use math throughout the trip by paying for tolls, counting exit numbers, checking tire pressure, etc.
Long before GPS and Google Maps, people used atlases, paper road maps, road signs, or verbal directions to navigate throughout the country’s highways and byways. Reading a map is almost a lost art, requiring just a little time, orientation, and some basic math fundamentals.
If you're a teacher, you can show students how to use their math skills for reading maps. Why? It will make them safer travelers and less dependent on technology. Plus it's a lot of fun to use old-school maps, drawing out paths to follow, and estimating how long it will take to get somewhere or how many miles will be covered.
Teacher tip: Plan pretend trips as a class or in groups. First, teach your students how to orient themselves on a map to start planning a trip by finding their current position on the map. Have them label this as point A. The simplest way to do this is to locate the town you’re in. Next, have them pinpoint nearby crossroads, intersections, or an easily identifiable point such as a bridge, building, or highway entrance. Once you’ve established a starting point, locate where on you want to go (point B). Now you can determine the best route depending on terrain, speed limit, and so on. Purchasing inexpensive paper maps is a fun way to incorporate this activity into your class. Or go high-tech and use map apps found online.
Teacher tip #2: Teach your students how to navigate by using the sun in the daytime and stars at night.
Daytime Navigation: In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Depending on the time of day, you can orient yourself based on the sun’s position in the sky. This gets a bit trickier around midday as the sun appears directly overhead at noon. The earth’s rotation around the sun and sun’s position overhead is also the basis for the sundial, Man’s first clock.
Nighttime Navigation: On a clear night in the Northern Hemisphere, you can locate Polaris (The North Star) by using one of the most recognizable celestial bodies, Ursa Major (The Big Dipper). Two stars on the outer edge of its “dipper” point to a bright star, which all other stars rotate around since it’s pointing to the North Pole.
Most experts agree that without strong math skills, people tend to invest, save, or spend money based on their emotions. To add to this dilemma, those individuals with poor math fundamentals typically make greater financial mistakes like underestimating how quickly interest accumulates. A student who thoroughly grasps the concepts of exponential growth and compound interest will be more inclined to better manage debt.
Financial knowledge decays over time, so it’s important to keep young people involved. By continually showing how specific math lessons apply to real life financial situations and budgeting, kids can learn how to properly spend and save their money without fear or frustration.
Teacher tip: Practice investing! Allot your students a set amount of pretend money individually or in groups. After teaching them about saving, investing, and interest, have them make financial decisions with their cash. Follow the stock market and check in on their savings weekly so they can see their totals rise or fall.
Time is our most valuable asset. Teach your students about the value of time by not only teaching how to tell time on analogue and digital clocks, but about the world clock, time zones, calendars, and the value of how they spend their precious time. In our fast-paced, modern world, we can easily get distracted and find the time has blown by without accomplishing what we meant to.
Teacher tip: Have your students set goals and determine how much time they must put aside daily or weekly to achieve these goals. Have your students calendar their time, create their own to-do lists, and give their tasks a number to rank what their priorities are. Not only are you teaching math, but you're helping a child learn how to organize their life and achieve their dreams!
The bottom line is that math is everywhere, operating in real life ways all around us. So, the next time you or one of your students says, "I'm never going to use this math again!" remember the above examples. And keep learning math!