“I very clearly remember the first time Calculus really made sense. I could use my graphing calculator and make whatever curvy line I wanted. But for most of Calculus 1, I didn’t really understand why it was necessary. Then, one day, I was given a problem with an actual real-life application. Our task was to determine how often a patient needed to take her pain pills to keep a certain level in her blood and have continuous relief from her pain after surgery. Because of the way medicine is absorbed in the body, the curvy lines of Calc were the only way to really chart this ebb and flow realistically. For the first time, this type of math was more than a pattern to learn or a series of ‘If A, then B’ scenarios. It actually had a purpose, and that made all the difference.”
-Alison Weaverdyck, Creative Director
For some, solving math equations and logic puzzles is its own reward. They get a thrill from getting the answer right or figuring out “whodunit” in Clue. But, for the majority of people, math is more a nuisance than anything else. It is a subject we have to sit through year after year in school, with few field trips, projects, or movie days to break up the monotony. Beyond the simple functions of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, the math we learn can seem totally useless and without purpose. It is simply a set of hoops we all jump through to get our diplomas, and then forgotten.
And then suddenly, we find ourselves confronted with situations as adults where some complex math could really come in handy. These situations can include student loans, buying our first cars, picking out furniture for an apartment, laying down a new type of floor, saving for our futures, hanging artwork, installing shelves, deciding what to charge for freelance services, making a household budget, and paying taxes, just to a name a few. Many of these examples have to do with spatial awareness and getting the right amount of supplies for a project. “Measure twice, cut once” is an old adage, and the USAT team can all attest to its truth as we have built tables, made crafts, and created artwork over the years.
On the other hand, the majority of the examples above have to do with money in some way. As uncomfortable as it can be to discuss money matters, these are the types of real-world situations that can most often affect a person’s quality of life if they can’t use more than simple math or employ sound and logical reasoning. For instance, the average household in the United States has more than $16,000 in credit card debt (which is over $880 billion total). Yikes!
During the USAT season, we try to incorporate challenges that are both explicitly and implicitly mathematical. Sometimes this takes the form of equations on a Face-Off! or a Mind Sprint that employs logic to solve. Increasingly, we have begun to ask our students to interpret graphs and answer questions about people and their behavior. You can rest assured that we will continue to bring these types of challenges to our triathletes, but there are also great web resources and games out there to help keep kids engaged between Meets. Here are a few of our picks:
AskNumbers.com will give you conversion rates for a variety of units of measurement.
PBS.com has amazing resources for grades 5-8
This PDF has a variety of math games you can play with a deck of ordinary cards.
Equate: The Equation Thinking Game is like Scrabble but with numbers and functions.