*As featured in a past edition of one of our magazines*
"When Are We Ever Gonna Use This?"
Next time your kids ask, tell them, "Soon. Very soon."
I recently started a math lesson by asking my students when they use math. The kids agreed, without hesitation, that they use it between 10:00 and 10:42 every morning. When asked whether they use math outside of class, they gave me a look of total shock, and many said, "Are you kidding? Why would we?" It was at that very moment that I realized something real was missing from this math class. The students saw absolutely no connection between what was going on in class and what was happening in their own lives.
When I stopped to think about this "When are we ever gonna use this?" attitude that kids seem to have, I realized that it's not a new phenomenon. We need to be teaching kids number sense; that is, they need to feel comfortable with numbers. They need real-life math.
Let's start with estimation, one of those number-sense skills that we use every day. Estimation isn't an exact answer; it's an "about" (that's how a kindergartner defined it for me). And it's a real-life math skill.
How do we get that across to students?
Here's an example. When I get into my car in the morning and my gas tank needle is way down, the last thing I want to do is stop for gas. So I think about the things I have to do: drive to work, carpool, play tennis, carpool again, shop for groceries, carpool yet again, and drive home so my husband can cook dinner (a true 21st century family). Then I use the old guess-and-check method. If I estimated well, I can make all those places. If I didn't, well...
And then there's my accountant. He estimates, which makes me a bit nervous. And I'm always amazed in supermarkets at how few adults estimate well. Did you ever get in the line that says ten items or fewer and look at the cart of the person in front of you? Where was this person when estimation was being taught? This is real-life math!
Help fine-tune your students' estimation skills. You can always have them estimate the number of jelly beans in a jar or the number of seeds in a watermelon—you know the old ones. But here are some estimables that you might not have considered:
And here's another example of a real-life math skill. Did you wonder when you'd ever use fractions other than to cut a recipe in half? Well, I was in the bakery the other day standing behind a woman with two children, and good behavior was not on their agenda for the day. In an attempt to quiet them down so that they would live to their next birthdays, the mother finally asked for a large cookie for the two of them to share. She asked that the baker break the cookie in half and give the larger half to the older child. I wanted to whip out my fraction circles (which I always carry with me for such occasions) to make a point. Instead, I made mental notes of the scene.
I could not wait to share these examples with doubters who dare to ask, "When are we ever gonna use this?" The parallel between what we teach and real life should never be a mystery.