Using Technology to Harness Math in the Real-World

Throughout the Common Core Mathematics State Standards, students should be making sense of mathematics in the real world.  In fact, the word ‘“real-world” appears across the math domains from “solve real-world problems involving multiplication of fractions and mixed numbers, e.g., by using visual fraction models or equations to represent the problem (5.NF.B.6) to “solve real-life and mathematical problems using numerical and algebraic expressions and equations (7.EE.B.4)”.   Real-world connections are rooted in the experiences we’ve had whether shopping at a store and calculating the discount price, to planning a road trip and determining the time, distance, and cost given a budget.  Experiences make us mathematize in ways a traditional textbook problem does not.  Moreover, doing the math is driven by our needs and interests, and that is what makes the utility of math something of value. 

This approach to teaching and learning math can be as simple as using a Data Talk (see below) at the onset of instruction to engage your students in math discourse or creating a real world problem for your students to grapple with over a series of days or weeks!

Think about how engaged you were when planning a holiday party and having to scale up or down a recipe online or applying for a loan and determining the monthly cost given your interest rate.  Of course, in these situations attending to precision really matters. Seldomly do we need to be reminded to “check your answer” when math is personal. Creating that kind of interest, excitement, and perseverance in the classroom, will take more than just presenting our students with problems involving a real-world situations, or asking “ Would You Rather” questions.  As teachers, we need to provide our students with an opportunity to put themselves into the experience (aka immersive math).

Here is a video clip of me working with a group of sixth graders introducing the project of building a house.

Build a house project on Google Slides for Reuse:

What kids lack in context we can provide with digital projects.  Digital projects allow us the teacher, to build an experience that will drive our students’ passion for doing math.  Students can share their interests, passion, and creativity in a real-world digital project.  For example, building on my second-grade students’ love of the Roblox game, Adopt Me, and their passion for animals,  I crafted a second-grade digital project in which students pick a pet to adopt, shop for items, and create their own animal.  This became an immersive experience similar to a video game, while students were adding and subtracting money, building three-digit numbers with base-ten blocks, and ordering and comparing costs of pets on a number line.

To further students’ confidence in this skill have your students create short videos explaining their thinking and how they solve the problem. Check out this video of a student engaged in a digital math project where she reads, writes, and compares three-digit numbers

Digital projects work across grade spans and allow students to see connections across math domains and other subjects. They can give our students an opportunity to use the academic language of a concept and have students explain their thinking through video, or text as shown in the above video. 

But best of all with digital projects we can hyperlink to awesome tools that allow our students to really connect math concepts to the real world.  For example in the “Plan A Holiday Party” I created for my sixth graders, they were selecting recipes from the site “All Recipes” for their holiday meal and had to scale up or down the recipe given the number of people they invited. 

In the digital project “Plan a Camping Trip” students not only were tasked with exploring a campsite in California but, calculating the mileage for their trip by looking up the gas mileage for a car they selected.   When given this situation, the mathematizing started to happen from students comparing the poor gas mileage between a Lambrogini versus a Hummer to determining the electrical charge they would need if they decided to drive a Tesla instead.  The beauty of mathematics appeared when students were allowed to be creative and explore possibilities which is what makes a good math project.

 Students can efficiently model with mathematics using digital tools and connect big ideas in math across important concepts.  In fact, the 2022 California Framework will require teaching “big ideas” as a way to support students in seeing how concepts are connected and deeply exploring fundamental ideas.  As teaching math continues to evolve towards are more student-centered and less teacher-directed approach, digital projects provide you with an opportunity to approach instruction with an emphasis on connections and ideas.  Projects give your students the time to link multiple practice and content standards in a comprehensive way with real-world connections.  Want to see my thinking process and “must-haves” for Digital projects check out this video in which I walk you through what I consider before creating a digital project and what are must-haves for project success.  

How to create a digital math project:

Technology holds much promise for the future of math and certainly will prepare students for college and career readiness.  Collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and communication are part of students’ experience in working on a digital project.  The 4 C’s are 21st Century skills that have been in education for quite some time, as a staple for the future workforce.   As teachers however we are challenged to bring in the fifth C of compassion in our work with students as well. With compassion everything is possible and we can reimagine our world and our children’s future.