It’s NOT Easy Connecting Math with the REAL World. Really?

I laughed out loud after reading this headline:

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 1.04.48 PM

@drdouggreen had reblogged my Let’s Do Some REAL Math post from a couple of weeks ago. It’s not easy connecting math with the real world…really? Actually, many teachers probably agree with Dr. Green if they have become a slave to the textbook. From experience, I can tell you, I’ve been there!  Making real world connections in math is difficult, if you’re depending on a textbook to do it for you.

My students haven’t cracked the text once this year but their understanding of math is undeniable. Math in the real world doesn’t get compartmentalized into strands, it’s fluid, and one question/concept leads to and builds on another. Let me take you on our Halloween math journey from last week to help explain my point.

St. Elizabeth School has a tradition of carving pumpkins.  Our grade 3 to 6 classes work together in cross grade groups of four. Teachers are responsible for purchasing an equal number of pumpkins.

Now there’s some real world math! I took it to my students!

                                                                                                                                                                  They made reasonable estimates about how many Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 3.47.12 PMstudents were  involved and then used a variety of math strategies and operations to calculate their estimates. We discussed and determined the information required to find the actual answer and students worked again to calculate the number of pumpkins our staff would need to purchase. You’ll note that their calculations came to 33.75 pumpkins.  This also presented an excellent opportunity to review decimal place value and  rounding to the nearest whole number. But why stop there? On to question #2! My students worked to estimate and used a variety of division strategies to figure out how many pumpkins each teacher needed to purchase. The math presented another opportunity to demonstrate what a remainder in division looks like in real life. Since 34 is not a multiple of 6, 2 teachers had to purchase 5 pumpkins and 4 needed to buy 6 (34 pumpkins divided by 6 teachers equals 5 pumpkins with 4 remaining).

On to question Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 12.13.03 PM3! Time to talk money! Again my students estimated how much a medium sized pumpkin would cost (this led to a short side lesson on mass) and then multiplied a two digit number by a monetary value with a decimal.  The kids then inquired to find the information required to determine the actual answer. My students used a variety of math strategies to arrive at the answer using multiplication and repeated addition. They worked together to double check their calculations using a second strategy.

                                                                                                                                                               Question 4: How many seeds would all 34 pumpkins produce? This led toScreen Shot 2015-11-03 at 12.13.12 PM some unbelievably incredible math talk and investigating! My students used their schema to discuss, determine and then make a reasonable estimate as to how many seeds one medium sized pumpkin would have. The kids then used their estimate and a variety of math strategies to determine how many seeds would be in all 34 pumpkins (2 digit by 3 digit multiplication). We needed to determine how many seeds really were in an average sized pumpkin. We asked Siri! This is what we learned: on average, a mIMG_1943edium sized pumpkin has 16 seeds per section; 16 seeds: 1 section (welcome to ratio). At this point, there weren’t any pumpkins in our class, so we visualized how many sections a pumpkin would have. Most of my students agreed the average pumpkin might have 8 sections. I had them work on some mental math to determine, with the given information, how many seeds a pumpkin may have. They used a variety of great strategies. Now it was time to dig deeper and bring in our real pumpkins. My students counted the number of sections on each of the  IMG_1942pumpkins I had available, worked with the collected data and determined the mean number of sections per pumpkin. The number they arrived at was a decimal number, so they rounded to the nearest whole, then worked to calculate how many seeds would be collected from the 34 pumpkins our junior students would be carving: 9792!

On Monday, Melissa arrived at school with 8
bags of pumpkin seeds to share with the 6 classes who had carved the pumpkins. More real world, hands on MATScreen Shot 2015-11-02 at 12.57.50 PMH!!! Question 1: My students again used their estimation strategies to determine how many seeds would be in one bag. Then they multiplied a 1 digit number by a 3 or 4 digit number to arrive at a calculated estimate of how many seeds there were in total.  Question 2: Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 3.39.12 PMMy class then worked to determine how we could share the 8 bags of pumpkin seeds among the 6 classes. This led to a great mini hand-ons lesson on mixed numbers and improper fractions and that 1 1/3 is equal to 4/3. My kids then divided the seeds up into 1 1/3 bags of seeds and then delivered them to the other five classes. Question 3: I split our portion of seeds between my students and had them count and tally the number of seeds they were given as they enjoyed eating them. Each student shared with the class how many seeds they received and then we worked to add the number of seeds to arrive at a total of 1546 seeds! Question 4: My students decided that it would be reasonable to assume that each bag held close to the same number of seeds (give or take 50 seeds) as they were all similar in size and seemed quite equally packed. They knew to multiply the number of seeds in our 1 1/3 bag by 6 (representing the number of classes). We determined that the the number of seeds produced came to approximately 9276! Pretty close to our previous estimate of 9792! “But wait Mr.C! What about waste?”, one of my students inquired! Certainly not every single seed was cooked! Some decided that approximately 500 seeds were wasted 9276+500= 9776! One student thought that 10% of the seeds were wasted .10×9276= 927.6 (928). 9276+928= 10204!

Some pretty good math for four days work! Multiple strands and multiple expectations were covered and the best thing is, my kids get it! Connecting math with the real world is easy. It just takes some outside of the text thinking.


About mrcameron14

I am a Grade 6 teacher of 18 years in Thunder Bay Ontario, Canada. Passionate about sharing with teachers throughout the world. Teaching students how to use technology 4 good and to make a positive difference in the world. Apple Distinguished Educator 2013, SMART Exemplary Educator 2013, Google Educator 2015.
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4 Responses to It’s NOT Easy Connecting Math with the REAL World. Really?

  1. Mrs. Zappitelli says:

    Great math thinking Grade Five and Six!!! Keep working hard:) You can come share your learning with your little friends in Grade 3 anytime!


  2. Mr. Grant says:

    This authentic and challenge based form of learning looks way more interesting and engaging than the text books Mr. Cameron and I “learned from” when we were in grade 6. Thanks for sharing!


  3. WOW! What a fun way to learn about math:) I am happy to see so many interesting questions-especially the one about all the wasted seeds! Hope you all continue to share the authenticity of your learning. (Wouldn’t it be fun to do this en français!)


  4. Bruce Ferrington says:

    Love it. Thanks for sharing with the rest of us.


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