Everyday Math: How To Bring A “Boring” Subject To Life
Pointing out its everyday applications can shift the way students think about math.
Simple applications of math are all around us, ready to be explained. I, for one, am passionate about sharing it and converting new math fans.
Knowing that passion might not come naturally to everyone, I’ve compiled a list of easy examples that stem from a challenge presented by my 9-year-old son. These are just the beginning. Every day brings us both simple and complex applications of math, and the chance to help students appreciate this “boring” subject.
Here’s how I did it.
Day 1: Percentages
The first day, we went out shopping when my son picked up a T-shirt marked 20 percent off. I jumped at the chance to show him only math could help him understand the cost of the shirt and what we would be saving.
My son looked at me and said, “Yeah! I get it. I see percentages and discount stickers all around. But that one was easy, Dad.”
Day 2: Distance
While preparing for our trip to a local theme park, my son glanced at the car dashboard and asked what RPM meant.
I explained it stood for revolutions per minute, or how many times the wheel is turning in one minute. He smiled, realizing I was going into another lesson. As we drove, we discussed the concept of revolution, diameter and how could we use that information to calculate the number of revolutions the wheel would make on our way to the park.
My son sounded more engaged than he had at the clothing store, probably because he had never realized that math was involved when driving a car. The ubiquity of math was sinking in.
Day 3: Volume
As I was preparing a bath for my son, he hopped into the room and asked how long it would take to fill the tub.
He sensed the smile playing on my face, exclaiming, “No! Don’t tell me even that it is math!”
I then explained that if we knew the rate water was flowing from the tap (gallons per minute) and the volume of the tub (gallons), math would help us calculate the precise duration it would take to fill up the tub. All you would have to do is divide the volume of the tub by the rate of flow to find it.
Day 4: Speed
We were watching TV when my son took note of a train zipping by a station. Another math challenge.
“If you wondered how long did it actually take for that train to cross that station, you could actually do it,” I replied quietly, not trying to startle him as he was watching with rapt attention.
To my surprise, my son paused the movie. I stopped to question if he cared, to which he offered an emphatic “yes.” I explained that if we knew the length of the train, the length of the station and the train’s speed, we could compute the time by dividing the total length (train plus station) by the speed of the train.
Day 5: Problem Solving
On the last day of my challenge I wanted to keep it fun, so I was looking for another fascinating example. As the evening crawled on, my son smiled at me.
“Dad! So are you ready to lose the bet? Today is the fifth day and you need to give me one more example,” he said.
A few minutes later, I saw my wife getting ready to feed the dog. She took the dog food out and noted we were running low. My last example.
I challenged my son to figure out how long a bag of food with 5000 kibbles would last if our dog ate 50 kibbles per day. He lost sight of my objective and jumped in with the answer, dividing the 5000 kibbles by 50. One hundred days.
With that, I’d proven my last example. More importantly, I’d proven to my son the universal application of math. Keeping students on their toes with these real-life uses is a way to keep them excited about math and ready to learn new topics.
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