When it comes to math, I remember throughout grades K-12 thinking, “when am I ever going to use this in the real world!?” So, as a teacher, it has always been important for my students to understand how the math skills we are learning can be incorporated into the real world. I begin every unit by asking my class why they think we need to know the skill we are about to learn and how they think this skill can be used outside of school. I record their responses on the Smart Board or an anchor chart and save their ideas until the end of the unit. Then, before taking the unit test I pull up the student responses from the first day of the unit and we discuss the same questions again, comparing and contrasting their thoughts from beginning to end. My students know they will almost always have a question on their math tests asking them how they can use the skills they are being tested on outside of school.
But, discussing real world situations is not the only thing I do to make math more applicable and fun. For every unit, I give the students at least one project getting them to apply what they are learning to real world situations. We have cooked no bake snacks to compare customary and metric units, designed 3D model homes equipped with carpeting and wallpaper from a local hardware store to learn about area and perimeter, had a paper air plane contest to measure distance, and created geometry scavenger hunts throughout the school.
Below are a few pictures from one of the projects we did that was a big hit with the kids. I put the students into groups and gave each a long piece of bulletin board paper. They had to trace the outline of one member of their group and then were offered rulers, yard sticks, and tape measurers to take measurements of the person they had traced. Once they measured a certain body part, they had to write the measurement in both customary and metric units next to the same body part on their poster. For example, if they measured the student’s right arm, they would write that arm’s measurement in customary and metric units next to the right arm on their poster. When I taught advanced math we took this project even further by looking at fabrics and using the measurements we took to determine how much we would need to make certain clothing pieces for the person measured. I even had a friend, who is a seamstress, come and talk to the kids about her job allowing the students to truly see how math is incorporated into this profession.
I think of all the math projects I have had my students do, my favorites are the ones dealing with computation because it gives me an opportunity to also talk about budgeting, saving, and debt. I truly believe we are not teaching financial skills to children early enough in life and this is a great way to get the wheels turning in that direction. I have my students do several computation finance projects throughout the year since addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are the skills they will most frequently outside school. Various projects we have done include giving the students a budget and allowing them to find their favorite restaurant menu on an ipad. Students then had to put together a meal and stay on budget. One time, as a surprise, I put the students into groups and gave them a budget to plan a pizza party. Little did they know, their reward for completing the project successfully would be an actual pizza party!
Here, you can links to two computation activities I use every year around the holidays; planning Thanksgiving dinner on a budget and determining the total costs needed to make all of the toys at Santa’s workshop this year. My students always enjoy these projects and I am amazed at how well they work together in groups when they are having fun learning!
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