My father was a mathematician to the core. He saw math everywhere and couldn’t resist sharing his passion with us or anyone else who would listen. He would sit us down from time to time to do a math lesson and invariably it would last for three hours, encompass countless pages of scrawled formulas, and wind up in the far realms of calculus – while we yawned and struggled to focus. In the end, I never did take calculus, despite all my early exposure (I was not taught past the 6th grade; see the post What are They Supposed to be Learning, Anyway? to read about my educational background), but I always found math to be an easy subject to pick up as it just made sense to me. I don’t have his zeal for it, but after science I would say it is my favorite area to study, and I am thankful for the solid foundation he laid for me in it. Math is indeed everywhere, and has so many practical applications that one of the great beauties of it is you don’t have to go plunk down and pore over a book; you need to go about your day. Whether cooking, building, or planning a trip, math will find you. Rather than focusing on how do I teach fractions? think what shall we cook together? Rather than how can I create word problems? think let’s plan our trip today together. Find the real life application, and the math will likely fall into place much easier.

Out in the Community

  • The science says there is a link between math and musical composition, and especially classical music. Do you have any opportunities in your community to attend a performance?
  • The playground is a geometric world, from 3D shapes to trajectories to sets. The best way to learn is through play!
  • Do you have a local berry farm or wild patch? Go fill some pails and practice math at the same time: estimate how many berries it will take to fill various containers, calculate your cost, let them pay in cash.
  • Are there an math groups, possibly through your local library?
  • Are there family game nights offered anywhere? From Payday and Monopoly to Chutes and Ladders and Uno, it is pretty hard to play a game without having math involved.
  • Take a hike and look for fractals, patterns, and shapes. During rest stops collect nature items for simple math – both to write out numbers or as counting pieces.
  • Using the framework laid out in If I Were You…, head to the library and learn about a famous mathematician and see why they found this subject to be so vital.

Lesson Building Blocks

  • Learn about shapes, patterns, and more with the Going 3D: Shapes, Fractals and Patterns activities and print-out.
  • Cook! Learn how to estimate – how many apples do you need to make the number of cups of chopped apples needed for a pie or applesauce? Divide – one lump of dough into breadsticks, a pizza into equal servings. Explore fractions: how do you measure 3/4 c of flour? 2/3? Time and addition: If it is 3:20 and the recipe says to bake for 45 minutes, what time do you need to check it? Measure: which pan is the 9×13? There is nearly unlimited math to be discovered in the kitchen.
  • Play games like Yahtzee or dominoes; do puzzles, such as sudoku or paint-by-number (my childhood favorite; find it in GAMES magazine, the best puzzle book out there).
  • Read the post Everyday Learning for ideas on conquering laundry, sorting and sets at the same time.
  • Thinking about doing some redecorating? Use the opportunity to actively explore many facets of math. Discuss area as you consider the options: how much room does a rug take up? A table? A bed? Learn to read a measuring tape in the process. Go big – measure the house. How many square feet? So what if you wanted carpet instead of just a rug – for a room? For the house? What if it cost $2 a square foot? What if it cost $3.19? $5.25? How much would you save using the cheap stuff? How many hours of work is that at minimum wage? Is it worth it?
  • Play with some loose parts in the Get Blown Away activity.
  • Learn decimals by tracking mileage on an outing. Log beginning & ending mileage – how far did you travel? Or track mileage across several stops, then subtract to get distances between stops. Add those numbers to get total distance traveled. How many miles per gallon does your car get? How much is gas currently? How much did the trip cost? Or plan ahead: if you need to drive to an appointment or soccer game that is 20 miles away and the average speed is 45 mph, when should you leave to make it on time?
  • In a day and age in which we make most of our purchases with plastic, have cash on hand & enlist their help in paying for things with the closest available change. Save receipts & later see how much change you would get back if you paid with $50, $100, etc (throw in decimals – like find what you would get it you paid $101.50 for something that was $81.38).
  • Have them explore the family budget with you. What is the annual grocery budget? What is that per month? Per week? On your next shopping trip, have them track the tally of items as you put them in your cart and see how close you stay to your budget. Keep the receipts for the month and add them up to see how it compares.
  • The grocery store, like the kitchen, is jam-packed with opportunity. Teach them how to compare prices between sizes. If something is 5 for $3, how much are you spending on 2? If grapes are $3.98 per lb, measure your bag and figure out what they cost.

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