Apply mathematical concepts to other fields

Sometimes, getting students excited about math isn’t easy. Nearly every math instructor has heard “When will I use this in real life?” at least once during their teaching career. Many students don’t see right away that they use math just about every day, and you can lose their interest in the subject if you don’t connect your course objectives to their lives outside of class. Thankfully, math applies to more fields than most students realize. Here are just a few ways to connect mathematical concepts to other areas and to get students more motivated to learn.

1. Create art with math.

Not all students see how subjects in STEM connect with the liberal arts. Some people mistakenly think the fields are separate and never the two shall meet. One great way to get rid of this misconception is to show how art can be created by using math. Creative Bloq shows eight examples of beautiful fractal art with suggestions on programs to use in order to create your own fractal masterpieces, such as Mandelbulb 3D and FraxHD.

The co-author of our Single Variable Calculus with Early Transcendentals textbook, Dr. Paul Sisson, used to incorporate art into his math classes when he taught at Louisiana State University – Shreveport. He encouraged students to use software to track complex numbers’ behaviors and create images to which students could assign different colors. Learn more from Math in the Media here.

2. Show students how to be fiscally responsible.

Chances are you have some students who don’t know much about personal finance beyond having a checking and savings account. Teaching them about budgeting, loans, interest, and more will benefit them now and in all the years to come. Students can start with concepts such as calculating tip and figuring out how much money they save when they buy discounted items before moving on to long-term financial decisions, such as putting a down payment on a house and paying a mortgage.

This post from Annenberg Learner summarizes the basics of simple and compound interest that you can incorporate into your class.

3. Calculate sports statistics.

Have students who want to be professional athletes, coaches, sports announcers, agents or just die-hard fans of the game? They’ll benefit from learning how much math goes into any sport. Everything from calculating batting averages in baseball to knowing touchdowns per pass attempt in football to determining the probability of winning a point in tennis can connect the concepts learned in class to some students’ favorite extracurricular activities. Plus, fantasy sports are especially popular, so you may even consider having your class join a fantasy league and see who wins!

Fantasy Sports and Mathematics is a website that includes the latest scores and injuries lists for various sports and sample math problems to use in class. This NYT blog post lists out ways to use sports analytics to teach math and includes additional resources ranging from a video demonstrating what it’s like to return a serve in professional tennis to a graphic showing how often football teams go for the fourth down.

4. Delve into the history of mathematics.

Students gain a deeper appreciation of the subject when they know who’s behind all those theories, formulas, and discoveries. Plus, they just might connect with the subject more when they know that people from similar demographics advanced the field.

A Buzzle article introduces readers to several achievements of African American mathematicians, ranging from those in the 18th century like Benjamin Banneker to the present day like Dr. William A. Massey.

This Smithsonian.com post highlights five influential female mathematicians throughout history, including Ada Lovelace and Emmy Noether. It gives a little background into these women’s lives, explains their accomplishments, and kicks the blatantly false stereotype that women aren’t good at math to the curb!

5. Have students write about how they think they’ll use math in their future careers.

Are your students still not feeling connected with the course content? Dedicate some class time to brainstorming how they’ll use math in the careers they’re planning to pursue. While at first some may assume they won’t use math at all in their chosen professions, they might surprise themselves once they think a little harder and dig deeper into a job’s tasks and expectations. They may want to interview someone in their field via email or phone to get an insider’s perspective into the kind of math skills needed to excel in the workplace.

On the blog Math for Grownups, author Laura Laing interviewed several professionals—including writers, academic advisors, and artists—asking them how they use math in their jobs. Her books Math for Grownups and Math for Writers delve into more detail on these topics and encourage folks who are hesitant about math or think they’re bad at it to rethink their perspective.

What are some lessons you’ve taught that encouraged students to apply math to other subjects and think outside the box? Let us know in the comments!