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Top 8 Places We Use Math in Everyday Life

Mar 16, 2017

By Justin Smith, Mathnasium Instructor

 

“But when am I ever going to need it?” It’s one of the most common questions kids ask when they’re told to study, do their homework, or get back to the task at hand. When you’re in school, it’s hard to understand the ways that what you’re learning is going to come in handy later in life. It’s hard to know how the skills are going to be applicable—especially if their career of choice seemingly doesn’t involve mathematical skills. But we all use math every day, whether we’re aware of it or not. Here are the top places where.

 

1. Telling Time

There are a lot of math concepts you need to understand in order to know how to tell time. You need to know that there are 24 hours in a day, that we split those days into two equal-sized 12-hour halves, that each hour is 60 minutes, and that each minute is 60 seconds. We have to have a general understanding of how long a “second” is. And we have to understand fractions. Yes, fractions. It’s built into our language. When you tell someone it’s “a quarter-to four,” you’re telling them that a quarter of an hour remains until it becomes four o’clock. In order to understand what that means, you also have to know that “a quarter,” or “one fourth,” is the same as “15 minutes.” 15 is one-fourth of 60, which is the number of minutes in an hour. So a “quarter-to” or “quarter-past” an hour is an extremely mathematical sentence that is so commonplace, many people don’t even know they’re doing math when they say it.

 

2. Working Any Job

How much do you make an hour? That’s a rhetorical question, obviously. But… is it a good amount? A bad amount? How do you even know? How many hours do you need to work in a week in order to make enough money to pay your bills? It’s fairly basic math, but you need to know how to work with multiplication, variables, and time in order to know how much money you’re making. If you just work and work and hope that you have enough money in your paycheck to cover your life… things aren’t going to be easy. Especially once you’re working on a budget, it becomes necessary to know how much money you need to make in a day, or in a week, or in an hour to support your lifestyle.

 

3. Shopping

How much is this shirt or blouse going to cost once the 40% sale is applied? What about once the 8% tax is added? What if it’s advertised as “half-off,” or “20% off the sale price”? Are you going to gather your things, head up to the cashier, and hope for the best? Or would you rather know ahead of time whether you’re able to afford the clothes you’d like without breaking the bank? That takes math knowledge, and at least a basic understanding of how percentages work.

 

4. Cooking

The recipe calls for “2 tablespoons” of sugar. You only have a teaspoon, or a soup spoon. The recipe calls for “3/4 cup,” but you only have a quarter cup measuring tool and a half cup measuring tool. How much adds up to “3/4”? You may know the answer. But that’s because you understand math, fractions, and conversions. Changing teaspoons to tablespoons is one thing, changing pounds to kilograms is another. You’ll rarely need the larger conversions in cooking… unless you’re planning on taking a trip to another country. There, you’ll either need to adjust by buying new cooking tools, or you’ll bring your own and hope you know how to convert ounces to grams.

 

5. Decorating

How many square feet of paint do we need for this wall? What’s the difference between a foot and a square foot? What if we only have a yardstick, or a meter stick? What do the two different sides of the measuring tape even mean? Is there enough space in here for the couch we want? These are all questions that come up fairly often when you’re decorating a home or apartment. And they’re questions that you need to be able to answer before you get to the store, or else you’re leaving empty-handed after having an unfortunately awkward conversation with the sales representative who wasn’t able to help you without the dimensions and measurements of the space you’re trying to decorate. It seems fairly simple… if you know how to do math.

 

6. Driving

Operating a car or motorcycle is ultimately nothing but a series of calculations. How many miles to the destination? How much gas in the car? How many miles per hour am I able to drive? How many miles per gallon does my car get? Oh no, I’ve hit a traffic jam, and now my pace has slowed, am I still going to make it to work on time? All of these questions are extremely easily answered with basic math skills. Otherwise, you’re sitting there hoping that things magically work out. But it’s possible to account for it on your own. This of course also brings into consideration “time management,” which we’ve already talked about in #1 above.

 

7. Critical Thinking

This isn’t even technically “math.” There are no numbers involved. But being able to think critically is a skill that is strengthened by learning math. The more math skills you gain, the more you learn to pay attention to details, question information, rule out unnecessary information, and analyze data. Word problems, even from a young age, require you to be able to recognize which information is useful and which information is irrelevant. The stronger your logic skills become, the more efficient you will be in your everyday life, and the more you will be able to navigate the society we’ve built for ourselves.

 

8. Watching the News

The polls are in! 71% of people believe… well, wait. What does that mean? And, 71% of which people? How are these results calculated? If you don’t know what the statistics that you’re being given mean, you’re stuck having to listen to the reporter or the person telling you about the study, rather than being able to decipher the complicated results on your own. Math is necessary in both gathering and interpreting the data.

 

I’ve barely scratched the surface. There are dozens of other places we use math in our everyday lives. Some of them are less common, but math is an invaluable skillset in terms of surviving in this world. If there’s something mathematical that you or your children don’t know, it can only benefit you to seek out a way to learn and understand it.

Tips for Parents:

  1. Point out when math is being used in daily life. Ask mathematical questions about the time, how many minutes until the next hour, how many cups are needed in recipes, the fact that they’re calculating how long they have left to live in their video games… kids are using math even when they don’t know it. And even if it annoys them, it will slowly sink in that math is something that is used everywhere.
  2. Learn new math skills. If your child’s math homework is starting to get beyond your own understanding, which is a comment that I’m hearing more and more often, take the time to learn supplementary or complementary math skillsets. Even if you can’t help with their homework, you can still teach them something and be valuable in their lives.
  3. Buy a conversion chart. Whether you put it up on the fridge, or have it available in a drawer, it’s an easy way to ingrain the conversion tables of kilometers to miles, grams to ounces, or liters to gallons. They’re skills that don’t come up often, but are extremely handy to know.

 

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