Mathematics in the Real World
When you buy a car, follow a recipe, decorate your home, sail a boat or build a house, you're using math principles. This Annenberg Foundation site provides real world examples of why math - even advanced match concepts - are important in everyday life.
While many of the videos might be too advanced for younger students, some of the video talks on this site can be a great introduction to "why do we need to learn this stuff".
Math teacher Dan Meyer explains how presenting real-life scenarios through photos and videos can make math problems "irresistible" to students.
- YouTube URL
How Traffic Jams Happen
Ever wonder why traffic jams appear when there is no accident or other apparent cause?
The Mathematical Society in Japan used a test track to replicate traffic jams that seem to occur for no reason. These "shockwave" traffic jams travel backwards at about 20 km (~12 mph). That's why you don't always see the massive wreck you expected after sitting in traffic for so long. Something as simple as a miss timed lane change can cause a ripple that creates a nasty "shockwave" backup.
In this video, it starts around 14 seconds in when the white car slows down for a second. The rest would be familiar to anyone who's driven the freeways during rush hour.
- YouTube URL
If High School Math Was Real
What would happen if the typical math problems we learned in High School were actually used in real life?
A great parody, with some real life lessons at the end.
- YouTube URL
The Thinking Fountain in the Minnesota Science Museum offers a variety of brainteasers, not just in math.
Monster Math for grades K-3 presents puzzles in a story format and the contents are in both English and Spanish--a friendly way to help these youngest students to transition from Spanish to English.
The Mendel project is routinely assigned in high school classes for the study of genetics. Students are asked to look at their peers and families for the presence of a widow's peak, for instance. Usually, the pool of subjects at hand is fairly small so compiling math statistics doesn't work so well. The existence of telecommunications, however, allows students to collect info from sufficiently large numbers to draw authentic conclusions and get a better taste for the unresolved issues in this field. And sites like MendelWeb's Statistics Calculation Page allows students to quickly calculate results from a large pool of data.
Some approaches to problem-solving are driven by particular subjects, while others are inter-disciplinary. In any case, math skills are so fundamental that it deserves at least a dialogue.
For many students math inspires fear, but a good coordinated curriculum, recognizing overlap and particularity, can help overcome these barriers.