An important goal of math instruction is for
students to see the relevance of math concepts to everyday life.
A student’s progression from a basic understanding of a
concept to a particular level of competency in applying that concept
in real-life situations is strongly influenced by abilities in
attention, memory and higher order thinking.
Attention skills help students maintain a steady
focus upon the details of math concepts, as they link new concepts
to what they already know about math. Memory skills help students
to store and retrieve known concepts, and to elaborate on new
concepts in their minds. Applying new concepts depends not only
on memorization skills (for example, memorizing attributes of
the concept of volume), but also upon the ability to think about
these concepts in relation to real-life situations (e.g., applying
the concept of volume in science class or in the kitchen at home).
Here are some strategies to help students develop
and practice the application of math concepts to everyday life.
- When teaching basic concepts, let students
work with concrete objects in the classroom. For example, let
students explore number concepts by adding and subtracting objects
in the room (e.g., finding the number four by adding the legs
on two desks, by subtracting crayons from the box, etc.).
- When introducing broad concepts, give students
opportunities to connect these concepts to prior experience
and relevant situations. For example, reinforce measurement
concepts by having students compare the height of classmates,
or the weight of their book bags when empty and full. Have students
first estimate measurements (e.g., how many books the bag can
hold, how much taller John is than Matt); then solve exact measurements.
- Identify topics that would be of interest
to your students, such as building a skateboard ramp, being
a market researcher, etc., and explore the mathematical relationships
or concepts related to these topics.
- Help students learn to apply math concepts
to new situations. Provide specific instructions (and ongoing
prompting) that describe what to look for, and the steps to
follow when applying each concept. For example, teach students
to use the concept of percent to examine the amount of water
in the human body, the price of a jacket on sale at the mall,
the portion of students who have pets, the percentage of allowance
spent on entertainment, etc.
- Have students identify daily situations where
they use math skills, for example, when reading bus schedules,
filling out catalog order forms, etc.
- Integrate historical information and events
into your discussions to connect math concepts to everyday life.
For example, have students explore how the needs of the times
prompted people to create or define math concepts and ideas,
e.g., the need to build the pyramids, the desire to navigate
the ocean, etc. Have students write a biographical portrait
about a person to whom math was important, e.g., Pythagoras
and his extension of the Pythagorean theorem, Florence Nightingale
and her innovative use of statistics, or Federal Reserve chairman
Alan Greenspan and the use of math in economics.