Here is a conversation between 4-year old Ariha and her father.

Ariha: [After applying a mosquito repellent] Papa, the monsoon has arrived. Mosquitos will come to bite us. So, I have applied this (mosquito repellent) on my clothes. You also apply it on your clothes.

Ariha’s father: [Sensing the opportunity to connect with Maths] Good Ariha! How many dots did you put on your clothes?

Ariha: [Shows 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 on her fingers.]

Ariha: 10 dots, papa!

Ariha’s father: Nice! [Showing the label on fabric mosquito repellent] Look at this label.

How many dots are shown on the label?

Ariha: [counting dots] 1…, 2…, 3…, 4…, 5…, 6…, 7…, 8…

Ariha’s father: [Inquiring if she understands the cardinality principle (the quantity as 8 in this case) or just mechanically reciting numbers in sequence and stops once all the quantities are counted] How many dots are there? 8, 9 or 10?

Ariha: eight

Ariha’s father: How many persons are shown on the label?

Ariha: 2 persons

Ariha’s father: So, 2 persons should put 8 dots. How many dots should 1 person put on his clothes?

Ariha: 4 dots!

Ariha’s father: [surprised with receiving the correct answer and wondering if the answer was based on subitizing as she had not counted dots to answer] Good job, Ariha! Can you show me the number 4 on the label?

Ariha: [Showing 4 with her face glowing upon the discovery] Here it is.

This conversation took place within 15 minutes of Ariha’s mother scolding her for not completing her Maths homework. Did Ariha’s father also had to shout at her to get these responses from her? What does the glow on Ariha’s face suggest? When learning is integrated with day-to-day life experiences like this, children will find learning engaging and fun.

What are the concepts whose understanding could be checked for or developed based on just this figure (label)? Counting objects, the cardinality principle, number recognition, subitizing (determining small quantities without actually counting), 4 and 4 makes 8, reading information in the infographic etc., right? Often such a figure could be used to associate multiple concepts.

There is an innate need of a child to learn in an engaging and fun way. Knowledge does not necessarily have to be compartmentalized into subjects like language, Maths, Science, Social sciences etc. What if parents and educators create/grab such opportunities to apply and derive learning from day-to-day life experiences? Eventually a learner himself should learn to see Maths (and Sciences) around him in day-to-day life and apply his knowledge, right? What could be our role as an educator in helping them with this?

Educators/teachers and content developers should constantly look out for opportunities to help learners apply and derive learning from day-to-day life experiences.

One of the progressive schools in Ahmedabad takes its students of grade 3 or 4 for a city ride in a school bus to connect Maths with their experiences and help them see Maths in real life around them. In one of the sessions I had taken my grade 7 class around in the school campus and asked them to share what Math concepts and where do they see around in the campus. I had nudged them to see Maths in spider webs on plants on the campus. I had asked them what interesting questions involving Maths could be worth seeking answers based on their connections and observations. I could notice the struggle in clearly articulating the Maths associated and coming up with questions. While these ideas may work eventually, one of the effective means is to bring interesting questions connecting Maths with real life to classrooms. I talk about this in detail in the rest of the article.

Some ideas to seek opportunities to connect Maths with real life

Collect images/click photos like the one below whenever you see applications of Maths around yourself.

Bring them to the classroom.

  • Ask students what Maths do they see and associate in such figures.
  • Ask them what questions can be answered based on them. Nudge them giving directed hints as required.
  • Eventually pose such questions illustrated below. Initially students will struggle and their association of Maths will be vague. Posing questions like these will help them not just develop their mathematical thinking but also eventually arouse interest in learning Maths.
  • Even assessments can be made interesting and stimulating with such questions.

Such a question can also pique interest of students. The picture appeared in a local newspaper and on their website. It’s a good opportunity to help students see one of the aspects of measurement of weights applied in day-to-day life. A similar technique is used to measure weights of check-in bags at airports!

One may want to introduce the concept of measurement of weights using weighing scale in the classroom asking a question like the above or asking how will they measure the weight of a pet dog or a pet cat. You have a weighing scale but your pet is too naughty to stand on the weighing scale till you take the reading!

 

The question also tests the skill of reading scales applying the place value understanding to read a measurement and the relationship between fractions and decimals, to represent a number in the decimal form.

We can also generate a discussion/guided inquiry around units to measure scientific entities, here, electrical power. How units are derived from other basic units using relationships between physical entities (here work done = power × time) can be made to notice.

Such real-life opportunities also exist in reading odometers in cars/bikes/scooters and hence the source of questions!

 

The question richly tests estimation skills using the context of discounts seen quite often in print medium. Discount offers are always around us luring buyers! Students are very comfortable when it comes to direct computations but often fumble when it comes to estimation!

 

Maths around us and sources of connections of Maths to real life

Here are some of the examples of how opportunities to relate Maths around us can be spotted and brought to classroom. Invest in a good camera and develop an eye to spot such opportunities!

[Water ATM] Here is a photo of water ATM clicked at the Surat railway station.

 

Can you think of interesting Maths questions that can be asked using this picture?

One of the questions is illustrated below:

“Are the quantities of water and their prices in direct proportion?” (If they were in proportion, the price of 1 litre water would be 2 times the price of 500 mL water, right?) Often understanding this kind of pricing pattern would make us smart buyers while shopping, right?

“Is this way of showing prices and quantities user friendly and hence effective? What could be other means?” Such questions can show the importance of representing data in different ways and understand which one is more appropriate justifying with reasons.

Other such opportunities: Calculation of a distance to jog around a park (number of rounds to jog) given the track length and the target to jog, reading an infographic on the amount of storage space different folders occupy on a mobile device or a tablet to decide on the files to delete and free up the storage space, reading a fuel indicator and estimating the distance the vehicle can travel before running out of fuel, reading information on wrappers, internet plans, mobile recharge plans to decide rates and make informed decision to buy etc. are some of the other examples. (Often, I end up in situations to estimate how long my vehicle will go before running out of fuel as the indicator nears E (empty mark) to decide if I should rush to a nearby petrol pump taking detour. How about you?)

Time differences due to time zones: One’s relatives may be settled abroad and one often may have to decide if can call them now or later factoring in the time zones and time differences due to that. Even for international events and international flight timings conversions from the local standard time to the Indian standard time and vice-versa involves Maths. These are also good contexts and sources for Maths connections.

Events around us as a source of Maths connections

News articles and trivia are also excellent sources of opportunities to connect Maths in a fun and engaging way as illustrated with a few questions below:

 

 

 

Unless the height is estimated, can we truly appreciate dare-devilry of this soldier?

Jokes and funny conversations as a source of teaching Maths

The mother of already three children is pregnant with her fourth child.
One evening, the eldest daughter says to her dad: “Do you know, daddy, what I’ve found out?”
“No.”
“The new baby will be Chinese!”
“What?”
“Yes. I’ve read in a paper that the statistics shows that every fourth child born nowadays is Chinese…”

Ask students to point a mathematical error in the joke. How about introducing ratios with such a joke and mathematical discussions around it? In fact, such a situation would be nice to hook students to introduce to ratios to compare quantities! Math questions associated with the joke that can be posed: “What is the ratio of the number of Chinese children born to the total number of students born in the world? What fraction of the children born in the world are Chinese?”

Even cartoon pictures can be sources:

Theme based Maths discussion and questions

One can use COVID as a context to make Maths questions. If Wimbledon or Olympics events, Republic day celebrations, sports event at school etc. are happening, those can be used to come up with interesting questions and associate Maths. Some of the examples of Maths questions are already illustrated earlier.

Projects dealing with real life applications

How about giving a detergent soap-bar and asking students to arrive at the dimensions (length, width and height) of a cuboidal carton to pack 50/100 such bars? What other different dimensions are possible? Which ones are more user friendly to handle and transport? Such a project can also act as a ‘hook’ to introduce them to the concept of volume of a cuboid, derive formula of a volume of a cuboid and be leveraged as opportunities to collaborate and learn as a group.

Such projects giving them real life problems are also excellent means to make Maths engaging and meaningful.

Assessment in the form of a story

What? Can the entire assessment assessing important concepts of a particular grade be in the form of a story? Yes, why not? Here is an example of an entire ASSET test for grade 8 in the form of a story!

It is important to help learners see connections and relevance of Maths in real life. In the article, I have tried to give some concrete ideas on how we educators and parents can do the same ourselves and subsequently help learners to connect Maths with real life, and make it interesting as well as engaging. Text-book and curriculum writers could also include more of such real-life based Maths problems with real images in their work. We can bring real life images connecting Maths to classrooms and ask learners themselves to come up with interesting Maths questions whose answers are worth seeking. This way we would also help them develop mathematical thinking and pique interest towards Maths, an avenue less explored but can be quite powerful. Any other such ideas and your experiences are welcome.

All the examples of questions in the article are from ASSET or Mindspark and made by the author with the support of his team. We at Educational Initiatives (EI) strive for and enrich its products with such pedagogical innovations. Feel free to use these questions in your classrooms acknowledging the source as ASSET or Mindspark. You can reach me at maulik.shah@ei-india.com and share your work, suggestions and feedback.

Maulik Shah

Maulik Shah

Maulik heads the maths team of pedagogy research at Educational Initiatives
Maulik Shah