Real-Life Math in Elementary School and Beyond

Elementary school students in three of Kingsport, Tennessee’s four high school zones took some weekend time this school year to learn practical, hands-on applications of math in the “real world”.

My question is, why isn’t their regular, everyday math curriculum talking about math in the “real world”?

Many educators contend that children must go beyond memorizing rules—they need to know when and how to apply the rules in real-world situations. Many also argue that realistic problems can serve as a powerful motivator in the mathematics classroom. They go on to conclude that the curriculum should consist of real-world problems because students will naturally learn mathematics by solving such problems.

The basics are changing. Arithmetic skills, although important, are no longer enough. To succeed in tomorrow’s world, students must understand algebra, geometry, statistics, and probability. Business and industry demand workers who can-

solve real world problems

explain their thinking to others

identify and analyze trends from data, and

use modern technology.

The mathematics students do in school should prepare them for the new basic skills necessary for their futures.

Instead of problems done with no context using worksheets, dittos, and workbook pages, students should be working on problems to investigate that are related to real life, such as investigating salaries, life expectancy, and fair decisions, for example.

Giving students opportunities to learn real math maximizes their future options.

Using money, counting change, etc. is a real-life skill that children need to learn. Play the following game with your second graders, third graders, and fourth graders.

Money Race

What you need:
2 players
1 die
pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters
sturdy paper plate for “bank”

The following coins (which equal $1.00) are placed in the “Bank” between the two players. A paper plate makes a great bank.

10 pennies, 5 nickels, 4 dimes, and 1 quarter

Each player also takes the same combination of coins for a total of $1.00.

Money Legend:
1 – subtract a penny and put it in the bank
2 – subtract a nickel or 5 pennies and put it in the bank
3 – subtract a dime or a combination of coins that equals 10 cents
and put it in the bank
4 – subtract a quarter or a combination of coins that equals
25 cents and put it in the bank
5 & 6 – choose any one coin from the bank

Player #1 rolls the die and either adds or subtracts the appropriate coins.

Player #2 does the same.

Play continues in this manner until both players have completed 10 rolls. Players total their own coins. The player with the greatest amount wins.