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.

Place Value Activities and Games

Once children have developed a basic number sense for numbers up to ten, a strong “sense of ten” needs to be developed as a foundation for both place value and mental calculations.

Ten is, of course, the building block of our Base Ten numeration system. Young children can usually “read” two-digit numbers long before they understand the effect the placement of each digit has on its numerical value. For example, a five-year-old might be able to correctly read 62 as sixty-two and 26 as twenty-six, and even know which number is larger, without understanding why the numbers are of differing values.

Place value is vitally important to all later mathematics. Without it, keeping track of greater numbers rapidly becomes impossible. (Can you imagine trying to write 999 with only ones?) A thorough mastery of place value is essential to learning the operations with greater numbers. It is the foundation for regrouping in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Developing students’ understanding of numbers, ways of representing numbers, and the relationships among numbers are focus areas for elementary mathematics. To help children understand these very important concepts and give them the opportunities to explore numbers, the following very effective and engaging game has been developed for First Grade, Second Grade, and Third grade.

Two-Digit War

What you need:
2 players
deck of cards – 10’s removed
Tens and Ones board for each player. Hold an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper with long sides on the top and bottom. Fold it in half vertically. At the bottom of the left half write Tens. At the bottom of the right half write Ones.

Shuffle cards and place them face-down in a pile. Player #1 turns over one card and decides whether to put it on the Tens or Ones. Once it has been laid down, it cannot be moved.

Player #2 does the same.

Player #1 turns over one more card and puts it on the remaining space. Again, it cannot be moved once it is laid down.

Player #2 does the same.

Players read their numbers out loud to each other. The player with the biggest two-digit number wins and takes all four cards. When all the cards have been used, players count their cards, and the player with the most cards wins the game.

Variation: The person with the smallest two-digit number wins.
Variation: Play Three-Digit War with Hundreds, Tens, and Ones

There are many really good games that emphasize a thorough understanding of place value