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Get Real: Math in Everyday Life



How many times have your students asked "When are we ever going to use this in real life?" You'll find the answer here!


Through the years, and probably through the centuries, teachers have struggled to make math meaningful by providing students with problems and examples demonstrating its applications in everyday life. Now, however, technology makes it possible for students to experience the value of math in daily life, instead of just reading about it. This week, Education World tells you about eight great math sites (plus a few bonus sites) that demonstrate relevance while teaching relevant skills.



Let's begin at the Lemonade Stand, an online version of a classic computer game. At this site, students use $20 dollars in seed money to set up a virtual lemonade stand in a neighbor's yard. Each day, they must decide how many cups of lemonade to prepare, how much money to charge for each cup, and how much to spend on advertising. Their decisions are based on production costs and on the weather forecast -- which isn't always accurate. Students have 25 days to either make a go of the business or go broke. Can they learn enough about the vagaries of business to make a profit? Students of all ages will enjoy the challenge provided by this simple game, which simulates some real business challenges and demonstrates how math fluency can help overcome them.

Older students, especially those with a new or imminent driver's license, will be both fascinated and educated by Calculating a Car Payment. Here, students visit a virtual used-car lot and select a car. Then they use formulas that include complex fractions and large exponents to calculate the monthly payments on their virtual dream car. This is a short lesson, but students may be inspired to use it as a springboard to other automobile-based activities. For example, Online Math Applications' Trips page contains mini-lessons on the costs of leasing, owning, and driving cars. Students can examine such topics as the relationship between the number of stops and the number of possible routes, how to determine the shortest route, and the relationship between speed and braking distance. The site contains formulas and quizzes and provides opportunities for students to create their own quizzes using the math and real life data they've learned.

Your students may not be ready to drive or run their own businesses, but it's never too early for them to begin to save. Several sites can help students get started.

The Mint, a comprehensive site designed for middle- and high-school students, provides lots of financial information and a number of useful tools. In Saving & Investing, students can use a variety of calculators to devise a savings plan, study investment strategies, learn about compound interest, or become millionaires. They learn about the federal deficit and check out the National Debt Clock in The Government, and explore the world of credit cards in Spending. Students can also learn about Making a Budget and discover the relationship between Learning and Earning. The site includes lesson plans and classroom activities, a financial dictionary, quizzes and games, and a little fantasy too. Can students learn enough to earn enough to escape from the planet Knab, where the natives "emit a foul smell and leave a slippery slime trail as they move about"? Only time will tell!

Moneyopolis, a site maintained by the accounting firm of Ernst & Young, provides a simple and effective financial planning curriculum for students in grades 6 through 8. In My Money, students learn that the financial planning process is made up of three steps:

  • What do you want?
  • What do you have?
  • How do you get what you want?

Students are guided through the financial planning process -- first with a series of questions to help them identify their own financial goals and then with a printable spreadsheet that helps them identify their spending habits.

The primary feature of the site, however, is the Moneyopolis(SM) game. Kids need to register to play. In Moneyopolis, "a town where money and math smarts are rewarded," students visit seven town centers. To enter each center, they must solve three puzzles, assemble a lock, and open the door. Once inside, students earn money by correctly answering math-related questions and by investing their earnings wisely. They can also spend money -- on luxuries as well as on necessities. At the end of the town tour, students must have saved at least $1,000 while earning three Community Service Medallions. It's real citizenship -- and it's just plain fun. Students may not even notice that it's also math! Just so YOU do, the site also includes a For Teachers section, featuring suggestions for using Moneyopolis as an educational resource, ideas for off-line educational activities, sample lesson plans, and explanations of the correlation of Moneyopolis math problems to NCTM standards. The site promises a future feature that will allow teachers to review scores and statistics for their own students. (Note: Moneyopolis(SM) requires Flash PPC.)



Of course, money isn't everything -- in the real world or in math. One of the most complete and self-sufficient math units on the Web is Project SkyMath: Making Mathematical Connections -- Using the Science and Language of Patterns to Explore the Weather. This multidisciplinary curriculum for middle-school students uses real-time weather data as a basis for hands-on math activities. Originally developed as an inter-school activity, in which teams of students exchanged data via e-mail, the unit is now available for independent use by all teachers and their students.

The project's 16 lessons involve data analysis, number relationships and graphing, patterns and functions, statistics, and measurement. Students access real weather data, learn about the Fahrenheit and Celsius temperature scales, and find out how to convert from one scale to another. They study the history of weather prediction, develop symbol sets, prepare graphs, predict changes, solve problems, and discover rules. In a geography link, students locate different geographic areas and determine temperature variations.

Language arts activities include preparing and presenting the work. The unit includes BLMs, assessment tools, and almost anything else you could possibly need. It even adjusts the curriculum for teachers without Internet connections. This unit will keep your students busy and engrossed for weeks! (Note: Some parts of the online unit require Acrobat Reader.)

Ciese Classroom Projects is another great site with a variety of real-world math problems. Maintained by the Center for Improved Engineering and Science Education, the site includes elementary-, middle-, and higher-level projects -- most of which are appropriate for students of all ages. For example, in Down the Drain: Water Use Survey, an elementary activity, students chart their own water use, compare it to that of students around the world, and answer questions about what they've learned. A middle-school project, Human Genetics: A Worldwide Search for the Dominant Trait, has students analyze the number of dominant and recessive genetic traits in their own families to determine which are controlled by dominant genes.

If none of these activities pique your interest, however, you might use one of the following sites to create your own:



Online Math Applications
This ThinkQuest Junior site includes discussions, questions, and quizzes to help students link math to music, history, science, travel, and investing.

Math in Daily Life
From the Annenberg/CPB Project Exhibits Collection, the site discusses how math applies to daily life, with sections on gambling odds, buying and leasing cars, population growth, decorating, and cooking. Most sections include hands-on activities.

PBS provides lessons and activities that connect math to everyday life.

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © Education World


Updated 07/20/2010