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Why Does Math Matter?

Math Matters 5

There are many opportunities for students to build critical thinking skills by finding connections between classroom concepts and the “real world.”  Math principles are truly everywhere – in our jobs, in the architecture of our homes, in the cookies we bake in the kitchen and in the sports we love to play. And these examples barely scratch the surface.

By encouraging students to explore their environments, we help them become creative, thoughtful problem solvers. Here are just a few fun ideas for families to help make math accessible, entertaining and relevant in everyday life:

Sort and Count Found Objects

If you have a young learner in your family, get an egg carton – after you’ve used all the eggs - and collect objects with a variety of shapes (like marbles, pennies, Lego pieces, or even M&Ms). Make sure some objects have similar shapes and others are different.  Help your child organize the items in various ways using the carton as a tray of containers – sort by color, type of object, materials, texture, etc. Also, incorporate counting and simple addition and subtraction using the compartments.

Go on a Shape Scavenger Hunt

Challenge your child to find and identify as many shapes as possible in your home. How many objects are circular, for example? Take a walk outside to find even more, and talk about how these shapes occur in nature and in the built environment. To add some science to the scavenger hunt, ask your child to guess why different objects have certain shapes and why objects in nature and those that are man-made might be similar.

Check the Temperature

Use the daily weather report as a jumping off point for more advanced math students. A thermometer provides a great visualization as students become comfortable with positive and negative integers. Kids can record the temperature and conditions over time with charts or graphs. Compare the data gathered from the weather in your hometown with weather in other locations around the country. Where do you see similarities, patterns or differences? Hop online to access last year’s average rainfall for the current month and practice calculating percentage increases and decreases with your own data.

Take a Math Road Trip

Make your next family road trip a little more interesting by encouraging kids to pay attention to various units of measurement – miles traveled, gallons of gas, minutes of driving. Consider how the car’s velocity impacts the length of the trip. Help kids make a prediction about arrival time based on the trip’s mileage and the average speed of the car, or predict when you are going to need to stop for gas and how much it will cost based on data gathered from previous trips.

Practice at the Pizzeria

Eating out offers lots of opportunities to hone math skills that are essential to daily life. Give kids a budget for the dinner and let them analyze the menu and place an order that meets the budget requirements. Calculate tips and taxes, and use portions of food to visualize fractions and percentages – pizza is perfect!

To learn more, keep your eyes peeled for six math-themed public service announcements to be broadcast during the CBS Saturday morning show, Innovation Nation. In the videos, I’ll guide viewers through real world scenarios – from a track and field meet to an amusement park and even the oceans of Australia – to show you the amazing ways that “math matters” every day and everywhere.


Dr. Mike Heithaus is the Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Florida International University in Miami. As a Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, he studies the ecological role of large marine and aquatic predators including sharks, marine mammals, alligators, and sea turtles. In addition to his research, Dr. Heithaus is interested in creating exciting inquiry-based lessons for elementary, middle, and high school students that brings the latest research alive in the classroom. A widely published research scholar, Dr. Heithaus is also an HMH math and science program author.

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