When am I ever going to use THAT? Three Creative Careers Where Math Matters

Math Careers

"It's not like I'm going to be accountant…"

"I'm an artist!"

"Who wants to sit behind a desk all day?"

The next time your math students question when they're ever going to use fractions or algebraic thinking in "real life," why not take the opportunity to discuss how they might? Here are three hands-on careers requiring math skills—and some ideas on how to get the conversation started.

Culinary Arts

It's all about the food, right? Point out how it's really all about the right ratios! Chefs, bakers, and caterers depend on mathematical thinking to do everything from estimating the number of ingredients they need for a dinner service to calculating the right temperature to serve fondue.

Trying to tackle fractions? Use measuring cups and spoons in the classroom to make concepts more relatable. Still not convinced? Start with a favorite recipe for four and change up the amount of servings:

  • Scale it back to feed two
  • Double it up to feed eight

Working with recipes also provides a great opportunity to talk about portion size! Challenge your "nutritionists in training" to determine the percentage of recommended calories your recipe represents for each diner.


From figuring out the ratio of fertilizer to water to sate your saplings to calculating the amount of sun/shade certain areas provide, there's plenty of mathematical thinking required when working in the great outdoors. Landscapers need to understand geometry to build a trellis or determine the amount of materials required to build a fence around the perimeter of a yard.

Grow the idea: Ask your students to design their own garden space.

  • How big and what shape will it be?
  • What will they plant?
  • How many packets of seeds or flowers will they need to purchase?
  • How much water and plant food will they need to nurture?

Encourage kids who love color to consider how different ratios of plants will create more attractive gardens.


Do your students have designs on being the next big name in clothing or accessories? Pique their interest in integers by showing the importance of mathematical thinking in fashion design and manufacturing. In addition to the obvious applications, like using more or less material depending on the size of an item, think about more subtle ways math matters.

  • What geometric shapes make the patterns in fabrics?
  • How many buttons/zippers/pompoms are needed to recreate one design five times?

Make it real: Challenge groups of students to create an online boutique—and figure out how much they will need to charge for items to make a profit! Consider:

  • Number and cost of materials
  • People required to assemble
  • Costs for shipping

It's a great opportunity to exercise math muscles while also addressing issues around money and value. Don't be surprised if you find you have a budding entrepreneur in your classroom.

How do you make math relatable to real life? We'd love to hear your strategies!

Looking for more ways to highlight real-world applications for math in your instruction? MATH 180 uses high-interest themes, stories—and career examples—to help struggling students in Grades 5 and up build confidence with mathematics and accelerate their progress to algebra. Learn more about MATH 180.

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