Students using a tablet

Real-World Experiences in Math

26 May 2015 by Scott Sterling

You can find math everywhere — and not just in the famous, “I’m buying some carpet. How much do I need?” example. Rates of speed have to be adhered to every day. Money changes hands. Interest accrues.

Math might also be the most common subject for students to utter that most famous of education questions: “Where are we going to use this?” Making that connection is key for memory retention. Here are some lesson ideas to help students get real-world experiences in math using technology:

Math circles

A Math Circle is an informal, regular meeting between local students and mathematicians/mathematical scientists after school or on weekends. The goal is to enrich students’ math education by bringing them real-world math problems on which the practitioners actually work. There are circles all over the country, or you can start your own.

Secrets to becoming a millionaire

This lesson comes from the Money Math collection, sponsored in part by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and Citigroup. Students work on life “rules” that help people become wealthy, like saving from a young age and using compound interest to your advantage. As long as students are familiar with percentages and decimals, they can take part in this exercise — which means it can even apply to the late elementary grades.

Space math

Perhaps the coolest uses of math come from NASA. There may be a lot of science and engineering involved in the organization’s missions, but nothing gets off the ground without math. Case in point: NASA’s SpaceMath site enlists kids’ help to solve math problems that came up in recent NASA missions, broken down into grade levels. Studying seismographic data from Mars might be the ultimate real-world activity — even though it’s a different world.


There are some great cross-curricular opportunities between math and geography. A lot of studying the world means combing through statistics. Worldmapper visualizes those statistics into maps that are easier for students to digest. The site also provides the data used to create the maps so students and their teachers can come up with their own projects.

The Noon Day Project

The Noon Day Project is another cross-curricular project, this time between math and science. Students from around the world collaborate to measure the shadows in their locations at noon every day. Using that data in a method more than 2,000 years old, participants can calculate the circumference of Earth.

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