Meaningful Math: When Am I Ever Going to Use This?

 This is an article from’s newest e-magazine. It is just one of many excellent and informative articles included in this edition.


“When am I ever going to use this math?” Most anyone teaching mathematics has been asked this question. Often students struggle to relate mathematics to their daily lives. While investigating applications of math is most critical to making content relevant, identifying appropriate ways to do so can be a challenge. Providing opportunities for students to see how math relates to their daily lives is essential to keeping students motivated to learn and keeping them engaged in math.

There are many ways to incorporate real-life applications of math into lessons, using a variety of digital resources.  Below are a few examples of how to connect the wonderful world of mathematics to the real world!

Activity: Using Systems of Linear Equations to Analyze Cell Phone Plans

Which cell phone plan is the best? Students will use linear equations to analyze two cell phone plans, in order to determine which plan is best based on how often they talk and text on their phone.

This activity is available at NCTM Illuminations: Talk or Text. Having students analyze these cell phone plans allows students to make decisions based on mathematical knowledge.  Students apply their knowledge of linear systems to determine how to save and spend money, an essential skill as they enter the real world. This activity is appropriate for any student learning systems of two-variable linear equations through an Algebra 1 curriculum and could also serve as a good review assignment when students revisit linear systems in Algebra 2.

Activity: Looking at Ellipses Through Earth’s Orbit Around the Sun

How does Earth’s orbit around the sun relate to global temperatures?  In this activity, students examine Earth’s elliptical orbit around the sun.  They watch a brief video on how Kepler first discovered that planets orbit the sun in an elliptical path and then complete an activity that allows them to explore this elliptical path, paying close attention to when the Earth is closest and farthest from the sun.  Students use this information to determine how changes in this path may affect global temperatures.

The introductory video clip is available at Science Channel: Elliptical Orbits and provides students with some historical knowledge of how it was discovered that Earth has an elliptical path around the sun.  The activity is available at McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center: Totally Elliptical. Students not only learn about Earth’s elliptical path but also explore when Earth is the closest and farthest away from the Sun.  As students learn about Earth’s path, they are able to connect Earth’s position to temperatures of the world. This activity is appropriate for any students learning ellipses in a Geometry curriculum; it could also be appropriate as an Algebra 2 lesson.

Activity: Modeling the Sine Function with the Ferris Wheel

How does a ride on the Ferris wheel model the sine function?  Students observe a Ferris wheel simulation and consider how it models points on the graph of a sine function.  They then generate a sine function using information from a specific type of Ferris wheel.

The Ferris wheel simulation is available at OER Commons: Ferris Wheel for Graphing Trig Functions.  This GeoGebra activity is a great way to allow students to make predictions of the various transformations in the graph before they complete the main activity.  The main activity is available at Ohio Resource Center: Riding a Ferris Wheel Has Its Ups and Downs. This activity emphasizes the graph of this function and how different values affect the nature of the graph.

Students connect the top of a Ferris wheel to a point on the sine graph by analyzing various positions through the activity worksheet.  This activity is appropriate for any students learning the sine function in an Algebra 2 or Trigonometry curriculum.

Activity: Exploring Probability Through Games

How can probability be used to win a game?  One of the games on the famous show Let’s Make a Deal! has become one of the most famous math problems ever, the Monty Hall problem.  The game starts with 3 doors, behind which are two goats and a car. Suppose one door with a goat was eliminated, is it best to stay with the original choice or to switch? Students can perform their own simulation of the game to determine if staying or switching is the better choice.

The simulation game is available at NY TImes: The Monty Hall Problem. This activity allows students to explore probability theory through games and learn how to make decisions using various strategies based on the rules of probability. It is appropriate for students learning basic probability seen in Algebra or Statistics curriculum.

The examples above illustrate just a few ways to incorporate applications across mathematics curriculum using engaging digital resources. Making real-life connections through core courses, including Algebra, Trigonometry, Probability and Statistics, can really make math meaningful to students. For additional ideas, strategies and standards visit the following resources:

Author Bio:

Amy Miele is the VHS Mathematics Curriculum and Instruction Coordinator, where she oversees all mathematics and business curricula and instruction, including course development, facilitation and support for both teachers and students. Amy has a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Massachusetts Lowell and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Salem State University. Prior to joining VHS, Amy was the Mathematics Department Coordinator at Lowell Catholic High School, where she taught math courses ranging from Algebra to AP Statistics.

Amy Miele

The Virtual High School

Maynard, MA



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