Friday, 7 February 2014

Math is Real Life - February 2014 Edition

 I am happy to once again join up with the fabulous linky hosted by Miss Math Dork, 4mulafun, The Teacher Studio, and Teaching to Inspire in 5th! 

Here we are the first week of February, and I don't know about you, but January was a loooooooooooooong month! This cold weather has been insane, we've gotten outside to play maybe a handful of times in the last month. My husband lucked out with 2 snow days...which makes me consider transferring to a rural school, as schools in the city never close!

So, let's get to my "Math is real life" post. This month I want to share an activity I do with my students that I find to be really successful...and very REAL! Let's be honest I can tell them that "math is real life" until I am blue in the face, and still there will be those unbelievers. So I need to prove it, by having them work through some real life math scenarios. 

Just before starting the following activity, I actually came across this picture on Facebook.

It makes me cringe to think that any of my students would say some of these things after being in my class. If we aren't teaching them real-life skills, what are we teaching them?

I also had to giggle a bit, as I am now teaching the Pythagorean Theorem, which I think is also a very important skill to have, especially for those students that will end up working in a trade.

So back to my activity...

Over the course of a week I present my students with some real-life math scenarios. I usually do these activities as a culminating activity to a unit on decimals and percentages. To make the activity a little more exciting, though not necessarily real-life, money is no issue. Therefore I call the activity "In My Dreams".

Day 1 - The students are asked to pick out one "dream" item they wish they could buy. 

Once they have selected their item from a flyer, they then need to calculate the amount of tax they will need to pay on top of the regular price. BUT WAIT...their item has been discounted due to too much inventory!

At the beginning of class I have students select a task tag from me when they walk into the room.

The color of tag they choose, determines the percentage they will receive off the regular price (which I don't reveal until later). I am always surprised at how excited the students are who get the higher percentage, and the disappointment of those with the lower percentage. I think it really shows that they are engaged in what they are least I like to think so!

Now that they have their discount, they must now calculate the final price of their item, including the discount and sales tax.

Day 2 - The students are asked to pick out their "dream" car.

I allow the students to go online to find their cars, with the only requirement being that it needs to include the actual price. (One student found the original Bat only costs $2,000,000! No biggie!)

Once they have their cars we discuss additional costs associated with owning a car, deposits, loans, etc.
The students are then required to calculate their deposits, and the loans they will require, with interest.

Again, the percentage of their deposit and the percentage of interest they will have to pay are determined by which color task tag they select at the beginning of the class. (Their first question, is always, "Is purple still the best one?")

Day 3 - The students are asked to pick out their "dream" house.

On the morning of, I do a mad dash into my local grocery store and grab a stack of "Real Estate News". I get a few strange looks, but hey, they're free!

Once they have their houses, we discuss additional costs associated with purchasing a house, property taxes, water, electricity, mortgage, etc. I have tried to make these activities as realistic as possible, however I did not want to “lose” the students by adding information that would go over their heads. Of course you could have a discussion about other factors that might come up when purchasing a house, i.e. insurance, negotiating purchase price, amortization rates, etc. 

The students are then required to calculate their mortgages (including interest), and payment plans (monthly vs. bi-weekly)

Again, the percentage of interest they will have to pay on their mortgage will be determined by which color task tag they select at the beginning of the class.

After completing this activity, I feel that I have prepared my students for scenarios they will inevitably encounter in their future. I strongly believe that I have provided them with some valuable tools with which they can use to make informed decisions later on in their lives.

OR....I may have scared them off of buying a house completely! Some students realize that they will pay double for their house, by the time they pay it off! Every year I have at least one student say, "I'm never buying a house". This begins a great conversation on renting vs. buying, and the fact that once you hit 18, living at home forever doesn't seem like the best idea anymore!

If you are interested in working through these real-life math scenarios with your students, you can check them out here.


  1. What a wonderful series of lessons to show kids how important math is in "real life". I need to work on adding more real life stuff into my lessons

    The Math Maniac

  2. What a fabulous activity, Kim! Love everything about this!! Thanks for linking up with us!!

    Mathematically yours,
    Jamie aka MissMathDork!

  3. This project is FABULOUS Kim! You can definitely tell that kids would be motivated to spend money on objects they want and then have to add in the real life aspects of it as well. I can see even adding on closing costs, down payments, realtor fees, etc. Such fun!

    Jennifer Smith-Sloane

    1. Thanks Jennifer!
      I actually add in calculating deposits with the car, and if time allows we calculate commission on the houses. The kids always seem to enjoy it, as they see its real life connections.

  4. Hello,
    I am the creator of and recently I launched a FREE math games section from Pre – K to 7th Grades. Wondering if you would be interested in adding a link to it on your blog.