Real World Math - 5 ways to see math in action

“When am I ever going to need to use this?”

Teachers across the globe have been asked this question, or a variation of it for as long as there have been teachers and schools. It’s fair to say that math teachers might get asked this question more often than some of their colleagues from other subjects. Sure, unless you are an engineer, a rocket scientist or an actuary then you mightn’t need to use complex math as part of your daily work. However, math is a life skill that we are taught in school, and that stays with us forever, whether we realize it or not. 

Since you're reading this blog, it’s likely that you already know that math is part of everyday life - and you want to show your students just how important math skills are. So let’s take a look at a few examples of math in action.

  1. Math and building

    It’s hard to build anything without math, from calculating how many bricks you need, how much concrete or how much electricity cable - math is vital when you are trying to build anything. It’s not just professional construction workers either, if you are taking on any kind of DIY project you will need math to figure out how much paint or wood you’ll need to get the job done. 

    So whether your students become construction workers or architects in the future - they will need math. If they are just tackling a project at home themselves then the skills they learn in the math classroom could save them money. 

    *Class Tip: You could set a building project in the classroom, challenging students to make a house out of boxes or a structure out of wooden blocks. This can help teach math- related skills like measuring, estimating, patterns and following directions. 

  1. Math Cake

    We probably use math in the kitchen more than any other room of the house. Cooking and baking is both a science and an artform, and it would be impossible without math. What a tasty way to see math in action. 

    Recipes are essentially mathematical algorithms, and there are many ways in which math comes into practice:
    - Measuring ingredients
    - Multiplying and dividing if you want to make more or less of something (usually more)
    - Converting the recipe from centigrade to fahrenheit 
    - Converting a recipe from mls or grams to cups 
    - Figuring out cooking time 

    *Class Tip: You could try a “no bake” recipe in the classroom, like no bake cookies or snacks to share as a class. 

  1. Short changed

    Another great example of math in action is shopping, whether you’re shopping for food or a new outfit - math is essential. Otherwise how would you know how much you can afford to spend, whether a discount is really a bargain, or if the cashier has given you the right change.  

    *Class Tip - get your students to play “estimate the total” when they are next at the grocery store with their family. The closest answer wins! 

  1. Early or late?

    Math and time go hand in hand, understanding time can be a difficult concept - but once your students have mastered this skill it is one they will use constantly.  Teach your students the value of time by looking at both digital and analog clocks, you could then show how time changes around the world, and then talk about how everyone likes to spend their precious free time. 

    *Class tip: Your class could set a goal of how long they will take to complete a task, create to-do lists, rank tasks by priority and talk about timetables. There are loads of ways to look at time online using train timetables or the world clocks. You could set a global challenge, getting students to calculate times in capital cities across the world. 

  1. Math could save your life

    When you travel you do it with math, figuring out when you need to leave to get to a certain place, and how long it will take to get there, do you have enough gas to get there or will you have to stop on the way - this is all math in action. 

    Your students may not remember the days before GPS and Google Maps but it might be a fun project to look at how people used to navigate. Math reading is a dying skill but is a handy one to have if your phone runs out of battery or you have no signal. 

    Learning that the sun sets in the west in the northern hemisphere, or how to spot the North Star could be enough to save someone’s life, if they are lost in the wilderness. 

    *Class Tip: Plan pretend trips or expeditions so you can show your class how to orientate themselves on a map. Or challenge them to find the best way from point A to point B, this is also a good opportunity to look at all the symbols on maps. You could ask your students to create their own treasure map of a far flung island. 

    So there you have it, 5 ways to show your students math in action. Math is everywhere, there’s no getting away from it. The next time someone asks you “when will I ever need to use any of this?” you can share these examples.