When are we going to use this in real life?
This question—or some variation of it—is possibly one that your middle and high school students have asked you at some point. For some students, math is more about memorizing formulas and solving equations than it is about developing critical thinking skills, and this can make it challenging for them to see the real-life value of mathematics. That perception needs to change!
There are plenty of jobs that involve math—some more heavily than others—of which students should be aware. By teaching students about how they will use different math concepts in the real world, we can open their door to understanding what math really entails and change their perspective of the discipline to one that's relevant to everyday life.
Here are six jobs that involve math to share with your students—along with some related student exercises to bring each of these professions to life!
Polynomial Operations: Financial Advising
Regardless of your dreams for the future, making them come true will probably take money, and maybe lots of it. How can you save money and make it work for you? You could open a savings account at a bank and make regular deposits. The bank would pay you a small amount of interest on the money in your account. Or, you could ask a financial advisor about investing in the stock market. Some stocks earn 20 percent or more each year, but they can lose that much too, or even more. Financial advisors encourage people to save and invest on a regular basis. A smart investment today can grow into a future nest egg.
Linear Systems and Piecewise-Defined Functions: Sports Nutrition
Just about everyone knows that being a top athlete takes talent and hard work. But fewer people appreciate the importance of diet in helping athletes perform at their best. For example, high school athletes may not realize how skipping both breakfast and lunch can be detrimental to their performance. When they show up for after-school practice, their body does not have the caloric fuel it needs to operate at its best. A quick energy fix cannot make up for a poor breakfast and lunch—or worse, no breakfast or lunch at all. A sports nutritionist can help determine the number of calories that a particular athlete should consume. This number depends on many factors including age, height, and activity level.
Exponential and Logarithmic Functions and Equations: Archaeology
Archaeologists study human history and activity through the recovery and analysis of artifacts and other physical remains. Did you know that it’s also possible to determine if there was a human presence at a particular site even if no artifacts are found? Methods discovered in the late twentieth century that combine chemistry, geology, and topography have made this possible.
Now, archaeological digs where no artifacts are found can still provide important information about the past. Archaeologists often make excavation grids where they are searching for artifacts and use the pH scale to rate the acidity of soils.
Quadratic Functions, Equations, and Relations: Cartography
Digital mapping, or digital cartography, is the process of compiling data collected over time to generate a virtual image of a specific region. The majority of the data is geographic in nature, but other types of information relevant to the map’s application are also included. The chief purpose of this technology is to produce maps that accurately represent a particular area. Much of the data comes from satellite imagery, and for most applications, these maps must be updated regularly to provide the most accurate information.
Cartographers use math in lots of ways. They create map scales to show how the distance between places shown on a map relates to the actual distance between places. They can also superimpose a coordinate grid on a map to identify points
Lines, Angles, and Triangles: Optical Physics
The field of optical physics involves the study of the properties of light and how light rays interact with matter. Optical physicists have developed products that reflect light rays to enhance the luminosity of objects, such as road signs and light sources.
They design surfaces covered with microscopic structures—tiny bumps, ridges, indentations, and furrows—that bend and reflect light. Optical physicists use their knowledge of geometry to determine the angle that light is reflected off a microstructure or the angle that light is bent when it passes through the structure.
Transformations and Congruence: Architecture
Every architectural project begins with a grid geometry plan, an overall scheme that shows how a building, such as a sports stadium, will be laid out and supported structurally. More advanced plans containing the details the contractor needs to start building the structure follow. In the final drawings, the architect precisely spells out all of the building’s elements and features. Knowledge of mathematics, especially geometry, is essential for determining how three-dimensional spaces work in order to fit the elements inside the building without wasting space.
And there you have it! These jobs that involve math are examples of how the lessons you teach in the classroom can become applicable to everyday life. So the next time a student asks when they will use math in real life, start by pointing them to these fields.
Learn more about HMH AGA for Grades 9–12, where students learn to master concepts, become fluent with procedures, and apply the principles they’ve learned to real-world situations.