Real World Math



I love to teach math.  I love working with numbers, and always have.  Sometimes, my students do not share my enthusiasm for numbers, and over the years some have even said "I will never use this in real life".  When I first heard those words, I realized that I needed to begin connecting my everyday uses of math to students' real lives.  Each time I connect math to real life, I find not only are students more engaged, it reassures them (and their parents) that they are in fact learning all of this math for a reason.  Here are five quick tips for incorporating real world math into your daily math lessons.


  • Addition, Subtraction and Money - I'm beginning with this basic math skill because it's one we begin working with in preschool.  Smart number sense begins at a young age, and it's important that children understand that we will always have to add and subtract.  These two math skills are the most important when it comes to managing our daily finances as adults.  We hear about rich celebrities going bankrupt all the time.  Sometimes it's for complicated reasons.  A lot of times, however, it comes down to basic addition and subtraction.  How much money is coming in, and how much money is going out.  My favorite line in math class, is this - If you don't count your money, someone else will count it for you and take it.  This always gets my students' attention.  The truth is, we have to be able to count our own money.  We have to be able to know that we are being billed correctly, and if we're paying in cash - make sure that the computer is showing the correct amount of money that we are owed.  Wells Fargo recently charged customers for fees incurred from debit and credit cards the customers never opened.  Alert customers who knew the amount of money that should have been in their accounts, were able to bring this to the attention of millions of people who were affected.  This is a great example of how basic addition and subtraction are necessary in everyday life.      



  • Restaurants and Tips -  Students can amaze their family and friends by correctly calculating tips in their head. Calculating percentages of numbers used to be one of those skills my students would complain they would never use in real life. Then I began bringing up restaurant tips.  This got their attention, because everyone eats out. The reality is calculating 10% of any number is not that complicated.  If you can calculate 10%, you can divide that in half and add the quotient to the initial 10% for a 15% tip.  For awesome service, just multiply the 10% tip by 2 and you have your 20% tip ready to go. When I taught junior high school, I told my students I expected them to calculate their tip for their families every time they ate out.  They LOVED this.  They would come back and tell me how impressed their parents were, because their parents hated calculating tips.

  • Credit Cards and Negative Numbers - I truly believe in my heart that if more teachers taught negative numbers and related it to credit card debt, we would not have the problem with debt that we have today in our country.  I love teaching students to add and subtract with negative numbers, because we truly use negative numbers each time we pay for anything.  Relating negative numbers to using debit or credit cards, or paying a credit card bill is a must for me.  Connecting any math skill to money is sure to get students' attention, because most students love learning about money. The reason subtracting a negative number makes the number go higher is because you're paying off debt - plain and simple.  That always hit home for my students, and helped them understand adding and subtracting with negative and positive numbers.

  • The Stock Market - Students like learning about the stock market.  They hear about it on the news, and they equate it with wealth.  Students and their families are more engaged when it comes to studying something they feel can bring wealth into their lives.  When I taught junior high school, my students would choose a stock to follow for a month and create a report on it.  If you're interested, you can access my full Understanding the Stock Market lesson here.

  • Cost Benefit Analysis - As adults we compare things in our minds, or on paper all the time.  Is this the right time to move?  Should I pay to repair my car, or buy a new one?  Is this new job actually paying me more money, or am I simply working longer hours?  These are math decisions.  Once a week, I would write up a real world math scenario and simply discuss it as a class.  I always told them there was no right or wrong answer.  In fact, we would even discuss the cost of things like time or worry into our discussions.

I hope you find these tips useful.  Do you have any real world math discussions or activities you use with your class?  Please share them with me in the comments below.



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