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Why Do We Need to Learn This? Making Math Relevant!

Math was never my strong suit (English nerd forever!) but as an adult, I wish I’d pay closer attention and learned those skills well enough that they lasted past graduation. Math really does have a lot to do with my life, and if I were better at it, many things would be easier for me. Hindsight is 20/20…

 Making math relevant in the classroom

Autumn in New England is wonderful, and it’s also the time of year when we plan out the next two seasons and line up authors for the new books!

Editorial meetings are the best. It’s a time to brainstorm, to discuss, to chuck a whole bunch of ideas at the wall and see what sticks. Some ideas are immediately obvious—we have to publish this book! Other ideas are intriguing, but we aren’t sure how they fit into our series. And still other ideas are the ones that lead to different, better ideas.

One idea we’ve been kicking around for the last couple of seasons is a math book. We published Amazing Math Projects for ages 9-12 a few years ago, and it feels like it’s time to do another one. Part of our mission with Nomad Press books is making the material relevant to kids, and math is one of those topics that could use a lot of help. Even though math is everywhere and an integral part of our daily lives, it’s a common refrain in classrooms around the world: “Why do I need to learn this stuff?”

So, why is math relevant? From my stance as someone who wishes she were better at math, here are my answers to this age-old question.

  • Knowing how to do math means making better choices. Did you know that driving just a few miles over the speed limit doesn’t really get you to work any faster? If I had learned math better, I could tell you why, but instead I listen to my instinct which says that driving 40 instead of 35 miles per hour will get me to work much sooner. But I’m wrong. I gain something like 30 seconds. Perhaps not worth the risk!
  • Math can keep you healthy! How many calories is that breakfast sandwich adding to my daily intake? How long will I have to exercise to burn off those calories? If I knew, I’d probably decide to skip the sandwich in favor of some yogurt. And then I’d read the back of the yogurt container and realize that the pink yogurt that tastes amazing has far more grams of sugar than we're recommended to consume ina day. If I were better at math, I’d eat a bowl of fruit.   
  • To change the world, you need to be able to measure the change. Should my next car be a hybrid? Does recycling all my paper and milk containers really make a difference? Is it better to run the dishwasher or wash these dishes by hand? Math is the tool you need to figure out the most efficient vehicle, the best way to heat your house, and when it really makes sense to buy local.
  • Playing music requires knowing math. A couple years ago, I started taking piano lessons because my kids enjoyed it so much. You know what? Playing music is really, really hard. And when my very patient teacher tried to explain the theory behind the music I was trying to play, he lost me very quickly, because it was all math.
  • Playing sports requires math, too! When Carli Lloyd kicks the soccer ball toward the goal, she's actually doing math to figure out what angle she needs to hit the ball with her foot and how much strength she needs to kick with. Since she's done this a few thousand times, it's all pretty natural for her, but those winning kicks all come down to math (and skill, and luck).
  • Math touches every other subject in the world, including science and art. Interested in wildlife biology? You need math to be able to track behavior, nutrition, genetics, and relationships. Interested in chemistry? We are what we are because of math. Want to work as an engineer? You’ll use math every day to figure out how to make machines work, how to make buildings fit together, and how the laws of physics dictate the ways we move.
  • Learning math means learning problem solving. Life is all about solving problems. Some are small problems, some are big, and sometimes you have lots of problems at the same time! Learning math means learning to think logically, which is almost always the best way to solve problems, even ones that on the surface have nothing to do with math.

So don’t make the same mistakes I did! Learn your math, stay healthy, and solve all your problems. See? Easy!

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