Real World Math: Getting kids interested

Did any of you parents out there think about math and ask yourselves, do we really need this stuff in real life? I know I did, and the parents I talk to are asking me if their kids really need to know ALL math concepts, just some of them or none at all. The simple answer is that your kids need ALL of the concepts to pass their classes, do well on the SAT, and get into college (have you considered a private Orange County college admissions consultant this summer? Great way for students to assure success in the fall).


But that’s not really what they are asking me, is it? They want to know, and you probably do to, if their kids can apply the math they are using in school to real life situations. Additionally, a lot of kids just don’t want to do math unless you can convince them that it has a real purpose. Here are a few project ideas to get your elementary school aged kids interested in math. (Read: Dr. Math FAQ Why Study Math)

1.  Math plus building

In this activity, students in elementary school will need to work on measurements, geometry and architecture in order to complete the task. They should choose a famous building or structure, one that you can simply Google and find a detailed picture of. It could be the Taj Mahal, the Egyptian pyramids, St. Paul’s cathedral etc… (If your child is not into these types of structures, they can also use your own home as an example.) Once a building has been chosen, ask your child to problem solve on their own. They can get help from you later if necessary. They need to try to figure out all the shapes that are needed in order to complete the building. They should then attempt to cut them out and glue them together using paperboard, glue and scissors. As the parent, you don’t even have to tell them that they are doing math, but in reality, they are learning all about geometry, angles and fine measurements. That sounds a lot more fun than just going through a book of problems!

2.  Math plus fashion

Sewing uses a lot of basic spatial skills that relate to math and measurements. The first time I tried my hand at sewing, I made a huge mess of it because I skipped all of the important preliminary steps. The precise measurements, learning how the machine worked and putting all the pieces together properly made for a much better second
effort. The patience and skills used in a sewing project is a great way to help develop basic math skills. (Asking your child to guess quantities is a great way to boost intuitive math skills. For instance, as how many pins they think are in a case and then count to see if they were close.

3. Math plus sugar

Cooking projects are another way to learn all about the basics. Have you ever eaten a cake where the sugar was cut in half or the oil was accidentally doubled? Gross. Learning about the real world application of proportions through cooking is a great way to help kids appreciate math. Plus, there is a delicious chocolate cake at the end!

4. Math plus flowers

Try creating a garden project with your kids to create a pattern of flowers, fruits or veggies. Stop by your local nursery and get 4 colors of flowers. Have the kids plant them in a pattern that they created earlier on paper. If your home has a second story, go upstairs and check out your pattern from afar. You could make the American flag (with 3 colors), a mixture of your school colors, create basic shapes (circle, square, triangle etc…) or whatever you think looks nice. Believe it or not, math is important to gardening.

5. Math plus building (part II)

Once your child has done a few real world building projects with paper, they can try their hand at building with wood. Many arts and crafts stores have basic building kits for things like bird houses or doll houses. If this seems a bit complicated, try making your house out of gingerbread or clay. Enjoy eating the gingerbread house when you are done.

If your kids continue to ask you, will I ever really use this? Try giving them a few additional
problems that they can apply to the real world now. Check out Real World Math.

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