Almost every high school student has asked themselves, their teachers, tutors and parents the same question: “When are we ever going to have to use this?” When an educator can respond with real world examples that matter to the student, chances are the student will put in the extra effort to understand the concept. If the star of the rugby team understands that knowing how to calculate speed and distance can drastically help him win Friday night’s big game, he’ll stay focused in class. If Australia’s next best selling author is a high school senior and understands how math can help in her writing, she’ll be more likely to work on math homework in math class instead of working on her novel. If parents and educators can explain to students how math is EVERYWHERE, and can make it relatable and interesting for the individual students, he/she will have a much more focused and teachable class.
Math for the athletes: Math problems that include averaging sports scores, figuring out statistics for a certain player, calculating the win-loss percentage, or exploring the results of a game bases on a players speed or accuracy, are all ways educators and parents can get the high school athlete excited and interested about math.
Math for the writers: Many students believe that if they are good at writing, they can’t be good at math. They believe if they have an “English brain”, that they don’t have a “math brain.” This is certainly not true. Lovers of nouns, verbs and all things writing related can put their strengths to the test when answering open-ended math questions. Some students even write out their math problem in words (Add seven to both sides of the equation and then divide by 2.) Encourage these students to write out their own word problems to present to the class. Catch the attention of the writers in the group/class by using creative and descriptive scenarios in math problems.
Math for the artists: Notice the students who tend to doodle on their notes during class or study time? Appeal to their artistic strengths by encouraging them to use art to explore math concepts such as geometry, linear perspective, and tessellations. Challenge them to take a small picture and draw it on a larger scale, prompting them to use a grid and different ratios.
Math for the thespians: Lights, camera, math! Students who strive for the spotlight and spend their time on stage are sometimes hard to pull back into reality from their imagination. Use math problems focused on how many tickets need to be sold for a particular performance, measuring costumes, building sets, time management/scheduling, and degrees of light. Help the future actors of the world understand exactly why math is so important for their profession.
When teachers, parents and tutors take just a little time to learn about the things that make their students “tick”, they can easily manipulate the curriculum to focus on these things. Some teachers put the athletes in one group, the writers and artists in another, and so on, so that each group can work on problems based around their strengths and interests. Having the perfect answer to “When are we ever going to have to use this?” may mean the difference between a student who puts in the extra effort to learn the material and one who mentally checks out.