Real Life Maths Resources: Some Thoughts and Links

I often go looking for real life maths resources to strew under the noses of my girls. Yes, I like to tempt them with different maths experiences, hoping they’ll think, “Wow! Maths is so interesting, and useful as well!”

So when I have a few free minutes I can often be found at my computer, googling the words ‘real life maths’ or even ‘real world maths’. And as soon as I hit ‘search’, pages of resources appear on my screen. This might sound absolutely wonderful to anyone who is interested in unschool maths. But could there be a problem with real life maths resources? 

Real life maths resources… I have nothing against the ‘real life’ bit. No, I’m sure children learn maths from their own real life experiences all the time. If they have a need for maths, they will soon learn how to manipulate those numbers and come up with the necessary answer. The maths is relevant. It has a use. There’s a reason for working out what maths is all about.

It’s the ‘resources’ bit I have trouble with. Real life resources are different from personal real life experiences.
Some time ago, after googling ‘real life maths’, I ended up on the Yummy Math website:

We provide teachers
and students with mathematics relevant to the world.

Doesn’t that sound good? If the maths is relevant to the world, it’s useful, and therefore it’s worth learning. I got excited: This is the perfect way for my children to learn maths. At least that’s what I thought at first. It wasn’t long before I began to wonder whose world the maths is relevant to. And the answer came back: not my child’s. It’s relevant to someone else’s.

This doesn’t mean I don’t like the Yummy Maths site and other similar resources. I do think they are interesting, and so do my girls. We’ve enjoyed discovering how other people use maths in the world.

Someone has to calculate how much waste is produced by a cruise ship of tourists.

Someone else has to keep an eye on the profits produced by the various movies. Which studio is more successful and why?

Then there’s the people who are tracking the ebola virus. They need to look at the mathematical figures to become informed about the risks, the likely causes, and the possible solutions to this medical emergency.

And what about Mardi Gras beads? How many beads are distributed each year? How many are recycled? Someone works out these problems.

Yes, real life maths is fascinating. We’ve really enjoyed discovering what other people are using maths for. The Yummy Math site sometimes has videos and other links which we can use if we want to find out more. And so maths leads us on other adventures.

We found out that the environment might or might not be at risk from cruise ship waste, depending on whether you consult an environmentalist or a cruise ship owner.

We looked at the Rotten Tomato ratings and discovered a few movies which might be worth watching, and a lot that are probably not worth bothering with.

We decided we are safe from the ebola virus, but learnt a lot about how it’s transmitted.

And we agreed we’d like to see a Mardi Gras parade one day, (not the one associated with Sydney), and wear strings of beads.

The bit I don’t like about Yummy Math is the worksheets, the mathematical exercises which accompany the interesting stuff. They are really no different from traditional worksheets. They are just based on real life situations.

Now it might be interesting working out how someone determined the volume of waste on a cruise ship. But when I see a whole page of similar problems, my heart sinks. This isn’t real work. We’re just working out something that someone else has already done, to see if we can get the same answers. I’m guessing if my heart sinks at the thought of doing this, so will my child’s.

So do I think real life maths resources aren’t useful? Not at all. We dip into these resources all the time. We use what we like, and ignore what we don’t.

Of course, if your children are learning maths in a more structured way, you might find Yummy Math,and similar sites, a wonderful alternative to traditional textbooks and workbooks. Relevant real life problems are always more interesting than made up ones.

And there is no doubt some children enjoy the challenge of working out maths problems. Even Sophie sometimes feels like doing this. But not all the time. And not if it is ‘required’. 

Here’s some of the maths resources we dip into now and then:

I’m sure there are many other resources. If you have any favourites I haven’t mentioned, please stop by and share!


Image:beads by Helen Cook(CC BY-SA 2.0)

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  1. Reply

    I believe math can be learned independently in real life situations. My sister had a math tutor who was brilliant. My sister loves animals, so the teacher took her outside to brush the horses and asked her questions like "if you have 16 horses and each one needs to eat 6 pounds of hay each day, how much hay would you have to buy for a month?" My sister wants to own a horse ranch some day, so this is relevant.

    Another time, my brother and I were working on fixing up our kitchen cabinets and we decided that if we wanted put the knobs on in exactly the right place, we needed to divide fractions. 😦 I never remembered anything about dividing fraction, but he learned it very quickly that day. 🙂

    1. Reply

      Brittany,

      Oh yes! When we make maths relevant for our children they understand and remember much more easily. Maths is useful. My own children have learnt all about distance and speed because they use maths when they run. Everyone likes to keep a note of how far they've run and how fast.

      We've never had the opportunity to own or even ride horses, but we did learn all about hands and the difference between ponies and horses by dipping into one of the real maths websites. That was interesting!

      Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your real maths stories!

  2. Sue, I love reading your posts because they always resonate with me and our experience as a family. I found myself nodding all the way through this! It sounds like you learned some interesting things on your recent maths travels, even if it wasn't the kind of maths you use in your everyday lives.

    I enjoyed your and Imogen's podcast very much, too. You two are a great team.

    I have been rather negligent of my blog and commenting on my friends' blogs recently, because I've begun writing (and editing) on a volunteer basis for an organisation – which is very exciting, but I'm working on finding time to participate in the blogging world, too! I have been enjoying reading all your stories, though – thank you!

    1. Reply

      Lucinda,

      I've been thinking about you and wondering what you've been doing so I'm really pleased to hear from you. What kind of organisation are you working for? It's very rewarding working with other people. It sounds like you are enjoying the work.

      I'm glad you understood what I was trying to say in this post! It's amazing where maths turns up. Yes, maths has led us on some very interesting adventures.

      Thank you for reading my stories. I'm so glad you stopped by!

    2. Reply

      Lucinda,

      I forgot to thank you for listening to our podcast. I enjoy chatting with Imogen. The conversation flows much more easily when I have someone to talk to! I'm hoping we can record an episode about computers together before the end of the week. Imogen has lots to say on the subject!

    3. Sue, I shall look forward to hearing Imogen's and your views about computers!

      I've been writing for http://www.PowerWood.org.uk, an organisation which supports people with OE's (very sensitive and reactive nervous systems. We have 3 OEs in our family – of whom I am one!). I went to a PowerWood workshop in March which very much resonated with me, and have since been privileged to get to know the lady who founded it.

      I've been helping out with the PowerWood website, and a flyer to be distributed throughout the UK, and we're even talking about writing a book together… all very exciting!

      I'm hoping to find a moment to share what's been happening on my blog, but life seems to be moving very fast lately! Cordie has just started going to a monthly 'girls' group' where this weekend we met a lovely mum and daughter who invited us to a home ed festival they are organising this week. So this morning I am off to buy a little tent, and then we are going camping for (my) first time in many years. Wish me luck!

    4. Reply

      Lucinda,

      Thank you for sharing what you've been doing recently. It's always wonderful to be part of a team working on an issue you care a lot about, sharing skills and enthusiasm and helping others. A book sounds very exciting!

      Camping? Cordie will enjoy that. I hope you do too! I am always reluctant to leave my comfortable bed and hairdryer at home and go camping. I'm no fun at all! Can't wait to hear all about your adventures when you have time to write a blog post. Have a fantastic time at the home ed festival!

  3. Reply

    Phew! Matsh. I always wonderes in school why the teacher liked to torment us with numbers. Life has taken a cruel vengeance, of 6 Owlets at least 3 love maths! And when I built my dome-shaped greenhouse, I needed loads of advanced – and funny – maths.Cooking and soapmaking also calls for accurate maths. I'm surrounded by it – help!
    When I try to find resources. I always find the same 2 pages. I guess the nets does not abound in Danish homeschooling resources, the adventure part of maths is very appealing to me.

    1. Reply

      Uglemor,

      You have maths loving children? They can help you with your soap making and greenhouse building and all the other wonderful things you do. Yes, there's lots of maths in real life. I love going off on maths adventures too!

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