After noticing a facebook post from Scholastic Teachers, I got to thinking about what I do combat the usual student question, “When are we ever going to use this in real life?” Since I teach gifted children, it seemed as though I heard that question almost daily. I decided I had heard enough, and since children (gifted students in particular) need justification for taking the time to learn something, it was time to find out when they were indeed going to use that concept in the real world. This is a compilation of things I have tried in the last few years.
I started out simple and tried to incorporate real-world items into my lessons. I brought in newspaper ads (especially good to keep from the holiday season to use all year long) and had the students figure out how much their parents would spend on them for Christmas gifts if they received everything they asked for. Then, I had them multiply that number by the number of siblings they have. They were always astonished at just how much money they were asking their parents/guardians to spend. Several went back and changed lists for parents just from this activity. This same idea can be adapted all year long. Give the students a set budget and have them do the “grocery shopping” for their family for one week. They must make sure it is enough food and healthy (integrating another subject is always good!) There are a million ideas to use newspaper inserts! Make sure to list yours on our facebook fan page!
For the second idea I tried in order to incorporate real-world math: I created 5 poster boards that had each of the five strands on them: Number Sense and Operation, Measurement, Geometry, Patterns and Algebra, and Data Analysis and Probability. If students brought me in a newspaper/magazine article, a picture (from a print publication, a personal picture, etc.), or a drawing they created, AND were able to tell me how that item would fit into one or more of the math strands, they received a ticket for the weekly prize drawing. I then tacked the item onto the appropriate poster board for all to see. It certainly created discussions amongst the class members and they were always trying to outdo one another’s contributions. From a management perspective: I never had to prepare anything or take instructional time (other than to discuss the item and where it fit in). Overall, this was easy to implement.
Lastly, I got a bit more ambitious. I wasn’t really sure HOW students would use certain concepts in real-life careers myself, so it was up to me to find out. (Mainly so I could quit hearing the whining question.) I set up my year in units based on the same 5 math strands as mentioned in the idea from above. As we finished the unit, I had community members from various careers come in and discuss how they used that concept in their jobs. I invited a wide range of people, from realtors, bankers, engineers, cashiers, store managers, welders, stay-at-home parents, and CEO’s. Working in a low-SES district, the idea of bringing in community members not only helped me rid of the dreaded question, but it also strengthened school-community relationships and opened the students’ eyes to careers they may not have known existed. It was always a culminating day at the end of the unit and I scheduled each guest speaker to talk for about 10 minutes. They sat like a panel and answered any questions after all presenters had spoken. Parents were also invited in and could add to the conversation as they wished as well. Thank you notes that included pictures I had taken were mailed out the next day.
I highly recommend finding some way to work in real-life math into your lessons. Students need to know they are not “wasting their time” by learning what you are teaching. If you show relevance, they will work with you rather than against you. And it will end up being more enjoyable for all!
Click the link below for the template I sent to ask for my math guest speakers. Tweak and use as you like – enjoy!