Monday, December 7, 2015

Answers the question “When would I ever use this in real life?”

In this week’s blog I’d like to draw your attention to a series of books called You Do the Math.

There are four books that embed mathematics into real life situations such as designing a skyscraper or heading out into space or solving a crime or flying a jet fighter.

I think the books will initially appeal to many kids because of the topics and the graphic novel approach in telling the ‘story’. The ‘stories’ are not the best part of these books but I don’t think that was their intent.  I think the best thing about them is taking interesting situations and showing how mathematics is used in real world applications.  Each book is illustrated with a consistent narrator who accompanies the reader and poses them math questions in every two-page spread.

The questions are supposed to be answered by the reader and if they have some understanding of the concepts involved then it’s likely they will be able to answer them.  (Answers are available for each question at the back of the book.  There are no explanations as to how answers were derived.) Working with many facets of geometry, algebra, basic computation, ratios, decimals, etc. is required to solve the problems posed by our narrators.  The books don’t focus on any single mathematical topic but use whatever skill is required to answer the problem for that particular situation.

For example, when designing and building a skyscraper it’s important to know how its shape and height (number of floors) is best understood using geometry. Selecting a suitable building site requires assessing and interpreting data related to physical features of the site and coordinates. The actual building stage requires digging a foundation and determining appropriate building materials that necessitates basic computational skills.  Within the skyscraper there will be offices, apartments, restaurants, hotels and stores all having unique needs for electricity and plumbing again determined using basic computations. And so on.

Data is displayed as various charts, tables, timelines and maps requiring the skill to understand how the information is organized and then interpreting it.

All four books are written by Hilary Koll and Steve Mills and include these titles:

Bringing these volumes into a math class, grades 5-8 perhaps, would offer a different approach to teaching some of these concepts by showing a real world application. Some of the math concepts may not be familiar with students and will have to be taught.  But bringing these titles into science and STEM classrooms would also be beneficial as a way to engage students using math and in real life situations. 


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