real life math, Imagine Math


If you look hard enough, you’ll see math emerge from some of the most unlikely places. The fact is, we all use math in everyday applications whether we’re aware of it or not.

Mathematics is the universal language of our environment, helping mankind explain and create within it for thousands of years. From playing games to playing music, math is vital to helping students fine tune their creativity and turn their dreams into reality.

When am I ever going to use this?

Variations of this question have echoed through the halls of math classrooms everywhere. Struggling students often become frustrated with complex math problems and quickly give in to the notion that they will never use math in “real life” situations.

While it may be true that some of the more abstract mathematical concepts rarely come into play, the underlying skills developed in high school math classrooms resonate throughout a student’s lifetime and often resurface to help solve various real-world or work-related problems–sometimes years down the line.

math helps you build things, Imagine Learning

Ask any contractor or construction worker–they’ll tell you just how important math is when it comes to building anything. To create something of lasting value out of raw materials requires creativity, the right set of tools, and a broad range of mathematics.

Figuring the total amount of concrete needed for a slab; accurately measuring lengths, widths, and angles; and estimating project costs are just a few of the many cases in which math is necessary for real-life home improvement projects.

Some students may say they don’t plan on working in construction. While this may be true, many will own a home at some point in their life. Having the ability to do minor home improvements will save a lot of money and headache. Armed with math, these homeowners will also know how to check construction and project estimates, ensuring they’re getting the best value.

math is in the grocery store

One of the more obvious places to find people using math in everyday life is at your neighborhood grocery store. Grocery shopping requires a broad range of math knowledge from multiplication to estimation and percentages.

Each time you calculate the price per unit, weigh produce, figure percentage discounts, and estimate the final price, you’re using math in your shopping experience.

Teacher Tip: Encourage students to play math challenges at the grocery store with their family. For example, they can estimate the total cost of all groceries prior to checkout. For a greater challenge, encourage students to incorporate coupons, sales, and adjusted pricing for bulk items. Your little bargain shoppers will thank you later when they’re saving money on their own groceries.

math makes baking fun

More math can be found in the kitchen than anywhere else in the house. Cooking and baking are sciences all their own and can be some of the most rewarding (and delicious) ways of introducing children to mathematics.

After all, recipes are really just mathematical algorithms or self-contained, step-by-step sets of operations to be performed. The proof is in the pudding!

Working in the kitchen requires a wide range of mathematical knowledge, including but not limited to:

  • measuring ingredients to follow a recipe
  • multiplying / dividing fractions to account for more or less than a single batch
  • converting a recipe from Celsius to Fahrenheit
  • converting a recipe from metric (mL) to US standard units (teaspoon, tablespoon, cups)
  • calculating cooking time per each item and adjusting accordingly
  • calculating pounds per hour of required cooking time
  • understanding ratios and proportions, particularly in baking (ex. the recipe calls for 1 egg and 2 cups of flour, then the ratio of eggs to flour is 1:2).

Following a recipe can sometimes be tricky, especially if conversions are necessary. We Americans follow our own set of rules when it comes to most forms of measurement. Conversions make it a bit more difficult to follow recipes from other countries as they most likely use Celsius and the metric system.

Celsius to Fahrenheit Conversion

Ex. The recipe calls for the oven to be set at 220°C, but yours is labeled by Fahrenheit.

Formula: °C x 9/5 + 32 = °F

220 x 9/5 + 32 = °F

396 + 32 = 428°F

Metric to US Standard Unit Conversion

1 US legal cup = 240 mL

1 US tablespoon = 14.79 mL

1 US teaspoon = 4.92 mL

1 US fluid ounce = 29.57 mL

Math takes the risk out of travel

Math comes in handy when traveling.

Think of it: when you travel, math comes along for the ride–from estimating the amount of fuel you’ll need to planning out a trip based on miles per hour and distance traveled. Calculating fuel usage is crucial to long distance travel. Without it, you may find yourself stranded without gas or on the road for much longer than anticipated. You may also use math throughout the trip by paying for tolls, counting exit numbers, checking tire pressure, etc.

Long before GPS and Google Maps, people used atlases, paper road maps, road signs, or verbal directions to navigate throughout the country’s highways and byways. Reading a map is almost a lost art, requiring just a little time, orientation, and some basic math fundamentals.

If you’re a teacher, you can show students how to use their math skills for reading maps. Why? It will make them safer travelers and less dependent on technology.

In order to use any map, you must first orient yourself (e.g., you have to find your current position on the map). This will be point A. The simplest way to orient yourself is to locate the town you’re in. Next, pinpoint nearby crossroads, intersections, or an easily identifiable point such as a bridge, building, or highway entrance. Once you’ve established a starting point, locate where on you want to go (point B). Now you can determine the best route depending on terrain, speed limit, and so on.

Fun Fact: If you really want to impress your friends, you can also navigate by using the sun in the daytime and stars at night.

Imagine Math graphic of sun's path

Daytime Navigation: In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Depending on the time of day, you can orient yourself based on the sun’s position in the sky. This gets a bit trickier around midday as the sun appears directly overhead at noon. The earth’s rotation around the sun and sun’s position overhead is also the basis for the sundial, Man’s first clock.

How to find north with the Big Dipper


Nighttime Navigation: On a clear night in the Northern Hemisphere, you can locate Polaris (The North Star) by using one of the most recognizable celestial bodies, Ursa Major (The Big Dipper). Two stars on the outer edge of its “dipper” point to a bright star, which all other stars rotate around since it’s pointing to the North Pole.

Math helps you save money

Most experts agree that without strong math skills, people tend to invest, save, or spend money based on their emotions. To add to this dilemma, those individuals with poor math fundamentals typically make greater financial mistakes like underestimating how quickly interest accumulates. A student who thoroughly grasps the concepts of exponential growth and compound interest will be more inclined to better manage debt.

Financial knowledge decays over time, so it’s important to keep young people involved. By continually showing how specific math lessons apply to real life financial situations and budgeting, kids can learn how to properly spend and save their money without fear or frustration.


Math lets you manage time

Time is our most valuable asset. Without proper planning, the day can slip through out fingers and our list of duties and responsibilities can start to accumulate. In our fast-paced, modern world, we can easily fall behind and get overwhelmed with all that we have to do.

Keeping on task has greater weight in our daily lives than ever in history, but it takes more math skills than simply reading a clock or following a calendar to stay on top of everything.

Math and To-Do lists

One of the best ways to effectively manage time is to create detailed to-do lists. The more on your plate, the more complicated and cumbersome these lists can get, so it’s important to have a strategy. Writing down to-do lists really puts our lives into perspective, but there needs to be order and clear priorities or you’ll find yourself focusing on the trivial while neglecting the most critical.

Here’s where math comes into play.

According to leadership expert, John Maxwell, there’s a three-step process to determining the order of priority of our relentless to-do lists. Each task is assigned a number. The higher the number, the more priority it receives. This mathematical to-do list allows you to dedicate yourself to the most important and time-sensitive tasks first. Periodically rethink your to-do list as some items may change, but it’s a great tool to teach your students and use at school or running your household.

1. Rate tasks in terms of importance.

Critical = 5 points
Necessary = 4 points
Important = 3 points
Helpful = 2 points
Marginal = 1 points

2. Determine the urgency of a task.

This month = 5 points
Next month = 4 points
This quarter = 3 points
Next quarter = 2 points
End of year = 1 point

3. Multiply the rate of importance by the rate of urgency.

Example: 5 (critical) x 4 (next month) = 20 points


See? Math is really everywhere, operating both behind the scenes and in real, up-front ways every day. So, the next time you find yourself thinking that you don’t use math every day, remember the above examples.

What other “everyday” math examples can you think of ? Share them in the comments below!