Real World · US Rankings

Why, “I’ll never use this in real life” Won’t Fly in My Classroom

I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend! My husband and I celebrated our 5th ViewAttachmentwedding anniversary on the beautiful shores of Tenmile Lake in Hackensack, Minnesota with our son, my mom, my brother, and my sister-in-law. I pictured myself relaxing on the beach with my feet in the sand, away from the stresses of math homework, but it seems that math in everyday life is inescapable. As a child, I would complain about the uselessness of math, “I’m NEVER going to use this in real life” and my mom would always reply with some scenario where I would, in real life, need to know how to figure out the math content I was studying. That was the downfall to living with an elementary school principal.

Math is inescapable; we take for granted the math that comes to us to easily. Take, for example, my chore of setting the patio table for dinner by the lake on Friday night. There were 5 adults that would need a place setting (C had already eaten and was happily playing in the sand). Without a thought, I arranged the plates in a near perfect pentagon, all equally spaced – I guess geometry does come in handy. My mom was overly generous with dinner and bought 6 steaks, thinking that Cooper would eat at least some. Well, being a 2-year-old, he wanted nothing to do with his portion – that just meant more for the rest of us. We each finished our serving of steak and decided to split up C’s. 5 adults, 5 pieces, should be easy. Here comes the challenge, my mom wanted a small piece, the rest of us were willing to share equally, and the steak is not a perfect rectangle. Once I had an idea of what 1/5th ofimages the steak would look like, I cut off one piece that was just a bit smaller and served it to my mom. From there I had to divide the rest evenly into 4 pieces, so I divided the steak in half, and then each half in half. The steak was perfectly done (medium rare) and thanks to the math skills I swore I would never use, it was also perfectly divided.

The Nitty Gritty


My weekends plans were a fun example of math used in an everyday activity.  The United States is lagging in our math and science skills compared to many other countries. This drop in ability may come as a surprise to people not in our profession, but those of us in the classroom know the test reports all too well. Falling test scores leads to public panic leads to more pressure on administration, teachers, and eventually students to improve test scores. Teaching styles are pushed away from teaching in a manner that is proven to reach students and back towards the traditional “I do…you do” approach. Students need to be engaged in their math content, they need to fully understand the real-world application, and they need to figure it out (mostly) on their own. Elementary math IS real world math. It’s up to us as teachers to make that connection clear, to bring interest and engagement back to the content, and to allow our students the time and space to explore math content in a way that is meaningful to them. Bring real world to the classroom; challenge them with real world applications and sit back and watch the productive struggle ensue.

Productive struggle is one of my favorite math terms, and something that I believe is lacking in our mathematics classroom. If you’re interested in learning more about productive struggle in the classroom check out this quick IGNITE video by Robert Kaplinksy by click on his picture below.