What maths do we use in real life?
When will I actually use maths in real life? It is a question I have heard many a time. The truth is we use maths every single day. Maths is more than just numbers on a piece of paper or a series of arithmetic questions. The skills we learn in maths help us to navigate daily life in the world around us especially in the context of measurement. Here are just 8 examples of where you can find maths in the “real world”.
Time is a type of maths in real life
We all use time every single day. Unfortunately the skill of telling the time is starting to dwindle because many of us rely on digital clocks now, either from our phones or modern clocks and watches. Reading an analogue clock is still part of the National Curriculum and is a skill expected to be started in Years 2 &3. As well as reading the time, being an important skill, we will need to understand how to calculate time intervals or durations too. For example, how long we have to do something or how long until something starts.
In Year 5, children will need to start understanding how to read timetables. These are often in the context of a train or bus timetable or a TV schedule. These are all things that happen in real life although, again in the modern world, TV viewing may not be based on a schedule anymore at home with platforms like YouTube and Netflix having programmes available all the time. You can view a free lesson here on calculating time differences.
Distance is a type of maths in real life
Again, we all make journeys each day to school, work, the shops or visiting friends & relatives. This gives us an understanding of distance. Is a journey short enough to walk or long enough to drive or catch a bus? Distances involve both imperial and metric measurements. We use miles most commonly in the UK but if you are involved in running, races are often in kilometres, such as a 5k or a 10k. Making journeys and thinking about the distance helps to develop our concepts of how far a mile or a kilometre is.
Linked to journeys is speed. If we are travelling 5km we could walk, cycle, travel by bus or car. We can compare the time it takes in different modes of transport based on the speeds of those modes of transport. As before, if you are into running you may track your running times and assess how your speed improves and reduces your finish time. These are all important mathematical skills.
From the moment a baby is born, we think about weight. This again is in imperial and metric forms. Traditionally we use pounds and ounces to measure a baby but today kilograms are more commonly used. We also engage with weight when buying food or cooking. We have to think about weight when going into a lift or a fairground ride, lots of things in our homes have to consider weight like our beds, shelves, car seats. When converting between grams to kilograms we will have to apply multiplication and division and often use decimals too!
Volume and capacity
Everything we drink can have its volume measured. You might be tracking your daily water intake or you might be limiting your sugary drink intake but you will measure in litres either way. You may compare the amount of water used having a shower vs having a bath. You could think about the amount of water used when flushing the toilet (especially if you have a loo with the 2 flush options). If you have to take medication this will be based on volume too. When shopping, looking at volumes of different items may help you decide on the best price. For example is it more economical to buy a 2 litre bottle of drink or a pack of 8 330ml cans? Converting between millilitres and litres will also involve applying multiplication and division and use decimals too. In the UK we still use some imperial measures such as a pint of milk. Take a look at milk bottles to build an idea of how pints and litres compare. It is a good idea to discuss the difference between volume and capacity too. If I have a 2 litre flask but it is only half full, the capacity is 2 litres but the volume is 1 litre.
Size is a type of maths in real life
We think about sizes all of the time. It could be your height, shoe size or the size of things in your home. We may need to figure out if a sofa will fit in our lounge or a table will fit in the dining room. You may need to shuffle furniture round in bedrooms to fit in a new desk or wardrobe. We think about length and width when buying a new TV so we can get the perfect size screen to fit on a wall and be seen from where you sit. This also goes for accessories, like books, games consoles or pictures to hang on walls. When we need to figure out if things we want will fit into the spaces we have, we are having to think about the sizes of everything. We would usually use millimetres, centimetres and metres for these measurements which involve having to multiply, divide and use decimals but we may also come across imperial measures such as inches and feet. Actually using a measuring tape is a really underestimated mathematical skill. Builders, carpenters, architects all need to be very precise with their measuring skills.
Money is a type of maths in real life
Many things in the real world cost money. In the modern world, children are seeing less physical money and the skills of understanding what coins we have in the UK is disappearing. When handling real money, children would historically start to build up skills of calculating change (subtracting). With more and more transactions being made digitally and even the adding up of shopping being automatically scanned, a lot of opportunities for building arithmetic skills are disappearing.
Do we even need to know how to add and subtract when the computers can do it all for us? I worry about this way of thinking. Computers can go wrong and what happens if we don’t have them. These skills were easy to come across before but now we may have to intervene to compensate for the change in technology. How about challenging children to add up totals as you go around the supermarket and then compare to the real total? Round up your totals and ask your children what change you would receive if you had paid with cash. Or ask what notes and coins you would use to pay the exact amount.
Ratio is a type of maths in real life
Ratio is used to show how much of an item there is compared to others. It is commonly used in scaling recipes up or down. When we have a recipe for 4 people but we are cooking for 6 we need to increase the quantity if all ingredients but we cannot change the balance of flavours otherwise the meal will not tast the same.
Another example I like to use is for making squash. We all like it differently, but if you had to make a bucket full of squash the same flavour as you make a glass of it, you would have to use ratio to keep the balance of flavours the same. It is also the same for paint. When we want to repaint a room in our house, we may go buy a tester pot first. In order for that tester pot to be the exact same shade as a larger pot of paint, ratio is used. For example the shade of green you chose might have had 6 parts yellow to 2 parts blue. Change the ratio and the shade of green will not match that tester pot you tried out.
We apply Fractions, Decimals and Percentages across all areas of real life.
It is often when we learn fractions that I hear pupils ask when they would need to use this in real life. Fractions, decimals and percentages are all the same thing but represented in a different way. They all involve describing part of something. Any time we are sharing, dividing, reducing or increasing we will usually be using fractions or percentages. Converting units of measurements involve the use of decimals. For example 330millilitres is 0.33litres and 58centimetres is 0.58 metres. Check out my free converting units of measurement chart.
Understanding number properties is important but using and applying math skill in real life is the end goal- its the WHY maths is something we study at school as a core subject. Seeing the math around us everyday helps makes maths less abstract and builds life skills. Most jobs have math involved: building work, doctors, shopkeepers, accountants, in fact running any type of business all involve using maths. Even a YouTuber or influencer relies on analysing numbers of views, likes and shares to be successful! There is no escaping a world filled with numbers but recognising how they fit into our lives can help when we have to learn them in school.
If you are keen to check out some helpful resources on measurement, I have a Free measurement lesson on my YouTube channel as well as a whole unit of learning covering Y6 Measurement objectives with examples of past SATs questions.