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Connecting to Math in Real Life

By Wendy Petti

Who needs math games when a world of meaningful real-life fun is beckoning? It's easy and rewarding to connect to the real world in math class. On the Information Highway," we can find online collections of real-world math activities, math activities with a specific real-life focus (including natural disasters), online data sources, portals for joining or launching collaborative math and science projects, and more. The real-world resources assembled here are sure to excite teachers and students alike.

Collections of Real-World Math Activities

The math activity sites listed here are repositories of lesson ideas that can be explored offline without the use of computers.

Practical Uses of Math and Science (PUMAS)
This site offers 71 examples of real-life applications of math for upper elementary grades and above, including drawing/interpreting topographical maps, money math, creating math magic problems, measuring the heat of sand and rock; and much more. The collection can be sorted by grade range, key word, or title.

Math in Daily Life
This collection of lessons, geared for high school but adaptable to younger students, presents realistic applications of math skills and concepts, including managing credit cards, determining the economics of buying vs. leasing a car, accruing simple or compound interest in saving accounts, communicating data visually, calculating rectangular and rounded areas to determine the quantity of materials needed for home decorating improvements, and applying ratios, proportions, and measurement conversions in working with recipes.

Mixing in Math
This set of free activities helps teachers, parents, and after-school programs mix a bit of math into students' daily routines. An activity chart lists the math skills tapped by each activity.

Real World Applications of Arithmetic
This downloadable collection of 20 real-world math projects is adaptable for upper elementary- and middle-school students.

Money Math: Lessons for Life
This free four-lesson collection of real-life examples from the world of finance includes a teacher's guide with lesson plans, activity pages, and teaching tips.

National Math Trail
Students from around the United States created real-life word problems related to their communities. That three-year project is no longer active, but the archived questions remain a great source of real-life math problems.

Online Math Activities with a Specific Focus

You'll want to be connected to the Internet to explore the math activities below with students; the activities can be adapted for whole-class, small group, or individual investigations.

Real World Math
This site provides ideas and lessons for integrating Google Earth into the math curriculum; each activity description is accompanied by a related downloadable Google Earth file. Students can estimate great or small distances and then check actual distances using the Google Earth ruler. They can determine the area of such complex polygons as oddly-shaped crop fields. They can learn about network theory and generalize rules while drawing lines to connect islands. They can learn about spherical geometry while measuring the angles of triangles constructed on a global scale. They can explore mazes and labyrinths utilizing real-life Google Earth images. They can apply formulas for the volume of solids while viewing and panning around the Great Pyramids and other 3D buildings. They can express large numbers in scientific notation as they "climb" Mt. Everest. They can learn about proportion as they use exchange rates to find currency amounts while crisscrossing the globe.

FEMA Disaster Master
FEMA presents a wealth of kid-friendly materials on each type of natural disaster. The disaster area relays information and statistics on each type of disaster in simple terms.

NOAA Weather Education
The educational resources in this area of the National Weather Service include statistical data and summaries of severe weather by year.

Students apply math skills and concepts through online and offline architectural design activities, including "Floor Plan Your Classroom."

Plane Math
Interactive lessons and an online airplane design center integrate math and science.

Music Through the Curriculum
Mix math and music to play with rhythms and notes, bringing fractions to life.

Math Collaboration

Math takes on new meaning when students can collaborate with other students and professionals from around the world.

CIESE Collaborative Projects
Join projects involving global data collection and analysis at the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education.

Math Forum Collaborative Projects
The Math Forum lists a variety of collaborative data collection projects.

National Association of Math Circles
This site helps bring together mathematics professionals and students in an informal setting to work on interesting problems or topics, with the goal of exciting students about mathematics.

More Real-World Math Ideas at Education World

Check out the Education World features below linking to online data sources or other real world math sites.

Tracking Fall's Falling Temperatures
Students graph and analyze temperature changes over time using data they've collected and optional web-based weather resources.

What Did It Cost 100 Years Ago?
Students compare changing prices across a century using online data sources.

Updated 11/18/2016