“Mom, when will I use this in real life?”
You’ve probably heard this question asked before, and it may have even been asked of you by your own child. If you’re not ready for it, the question can be difficult to answer. Fortunately, we have prepared a shortlist of some of the many ways we use math in our daily lives so you can have all the answers (or at least some)!
Let’s start with a big one. Filing taxes—it’s something every adult has to do. While the process will likely never be described as pleasant, explain to your child that having a solid math background can certainly make it more bearable. When combining multiple incomes, deducting tax credits, and calculating business expenses, it helps to recognize all these values for what they are: arithmetic. You can also tell them that running addition, subtraction, and multiplication through a calculator makes filing taxes that much easier, but you have to know what the equation is and how to punch it into the calculator (that takes math skills). Now, if only you could advise them on how to remember where that W-2 is safely tucked away.
Aside from the obvious arithmetic you have to do as you add the prices of different food items and tax rates on top of it, did you know that when you’re planning your route through the store, like deciding where to start, the bread aisle or canned goods, and then moving your way over to the frozen foods section, you’re actually performing mathematical processes in your head?
It’s true! The same math processes power Google Maps, delivery routes, and even the layout of retail stores. You do many of these operations in your head without even thinking about it, but the more you practiced your mathematical skills when you were younger, the more organized your routes were!
Your child may be wondering how math is used while driving. Share these real world examples:
- You calculate the time to reach a destination by dividing the distance by the speed. That right there is an algebraic function that you use on virtually every long-distance road trip.
- You compare known values against limits. Whether you’re gauging your speed in comparison to the speed limit, your gas level in comparison to how fast you are driving, or how much gas you are using, you are performing math inequalities.
- Remember what we said about planning routes in your head at the grocery store? The same thing applies when you’re driving. Not only are you planning long-term routes to different destinations, but in the moment-to-moment act of driving, you make mathematical decisions based on your speed, the position of cars around you, the direction you want to go, and more. That’s all math.
- Perhaps the most surprising math you do when driving is something called abstraction. Abstraction is the idea that when interacting with complex systems (like a car), you only have to concern yourself with limited parts of it (like the gas pedal, brake, and steering wheel) and use those portions to produce desired effects (like speed, turning, or stopping). You don’t have to think about how the pistons fire or how a series of belts and gears translate that energy into forward movement for your car. You just know that if you press the pedal, you go fast. And that, believe it or not, that’s math.
Share with your children all the ways you use it to build, create, and design! Ever tried to hang a picture on the wall, only for it to hang crooked? Then you spend the next 30 minutes fixing it to align perfectly with its surroundings?
Well, you guessed it, that’s math too. Aligning the tops and bottoms of the picture with the ceiling and floor? That’s all angles and parallels.
When you’re cutting wood for carpentry, building a couch, or gluing together a toothpick sculpture, you are using mathematical concepts of geometry, angles, surface area, and more.
Creating art requires math, too. It’s no coincidence that many of great artists were also mathematicians. Painting involves understanding proportion, shape, contrast, and patterns, all of which are mathematical concepts.
But that’s just two dimensional art. Once you start moving into three dimensional physical art like sculpture, pottery, or stone cutting, you start dealing with many of the same math concepts that you work within home DIYs and building projects.
When you move from physical art to digital art, math concepts are no longer bound by pesky rules like gravity or mass, and artists are truly free to express incredible concepts driven by math via computer programs.
You might have thought music was safe from math, huh? Nope. Many musicians can tell you that math informs every part of music. You’ll find math in keeping time, following rhythms, calculating note length, and more. The very essence of sound has been described via mathematical principles.
By understanding the mechanics of music in a mathematical way, talented musicians can create transcendent experiences for their audiences.
Watching Moneyball is one way to understand the myriad of ways that math influences sports. If your child is interested in sports, this can be a cool way to convey the importance of math that is relevant to them. Let’s kick off (pun intended) by mentioning the way that statistics and data processing influences team lineups and contract negotiations. It comes down to more than just RBI (runs batted in) and batting average. By using objective statistical analysis, different sports teams have made major bounds in improving their game-to-game lineup.
If we want to get more into the actual play side of things and not so much the managerial aspect of sports, consider the physics behind a football tackle. At the end of the day, how a left tackle hits the QB — their angle of approach, speed, mass, and chance of success — can all be broken down into mathematical components and adjusted.
The same can be said for how players handle the ball (or puck, for you Hockey fans). Increased surface area improves control of the object, and increased force affects the object’s speed. Of course, angular momentum affects the object’s trajectory through the air. That’s all math!.
Finally, another element of math in sports is a special concept called Game Theory. When coaches are making calls from their playbook, they have to do so by anticipating what their opponent is going to do and acting accordingly. The ability to predict what your opponent is doing, what to do in turn, and how they’ll react to your actions is Game Theory, and it’s as important to American Football as being able to run fast or throw far.
This last example is a simple one to share with your children. When you are putting together different ingredients, you are using arithmetic to make sure you add the correct amount. When you double a recipe, you have to perform multiplication. When you just eyeball it, you’re doing basic rounding and estimation. In baking, you realize that precision is necessary and that eyeballing is rarely recommended. If you are watching your figure, you have to consider calorie counts when choosing your ingredients and add them together to estimate your meal’s caloric totals.
Let’s also think about the next time you take your children out to eat. Think about the amount of math that is required in restaurant operations where you have a whole kitchen full of chefs. Now, you have to use a lot of the same math that you use in navigating a grocery store. Deciding who sets their station where, when to start throwing things in the oven, taking turns with different tools require the application of discrete math in order to produce a delectable final product. Failure to properly apply math principles can result in unsavory results. Determining price points based on the cost of ingredients is pretty important too!
Let’s Get Learning!
That’s a lot of activities that involve math. But if we think about it hard enough, almost everything uses math in one way or another. The more our children understand math, the better they can understand the very universe around them, and see how math is useful in their daily lives.
It’s never too early for your kids to learn about the mechanics of the world. Math can seem confusing and a little scary to many students, but it is a rewarding subject on so many levels. If you can start at a young age by pointing out how you and your children are using math to solve everyday problems, they just might start to see the connection and lose the fear.
At BYJU’S FutureSchool, we celebrate learning in all its forms and would love to help your child expand their mathematical mindset. We teach classes on math, coding, and music (with an expanded curriculum on the way). Regardless of your child’s age or knowledge, there’s a course that’s perfect for them. Check out our website to browse our catalog and sign up for a FREE trial.