Incidental Real World Mathematics

Math happens.  It’s all around us, every second of every day.  Its not something we readily identify- it is infused into our daily routine that most people don’t realize its there.  This is one of the hard things as a math teacher, especially when we are hit with the inevitable “When will I use this?” question.

I don’t have a typical response to that question.  When students ask that, they have decided they don’t want to learn that day and want justification for their decision.  Typically I will say, “Wait until the end of class and we will discuss its uses then.”  When we do discuss it at the end of the day I typically probe students for situations where they think they might use it, I never try to present instances.  I have found that when I do this, the question doesn’t rear it’s head too often.

One of the hard things as a teacher today is the fact that we seem to feel we have to justify WHY we are teaching topics.  This pressure comes from students, parents, administration, the state, ourselves and society in general.  By doing this, we are giving students and parents justification why they don’t have to learn a topic.  As a teacher, I am trying to prepare my students for whatever profession they wish to pursue.  I can’t tell them what they will become, and for the most part I don’t keep up with how much mathematics is required for the billion different jobs there are out there.  As such, teachers try to bring in examples from the real world to help make connections.  We write elaborate questions, lessons, presentations- tweaking them with the latest and greatest trends in culture.  As such we fabricate connections that students find false- and to a large degree they are correct.  Trying to engage students with weak background connections only strengthen the need to ask “When will I use this?”

Flash to this last weekend, when I am getting ready for hunting season.  I am an avid hunter, and not only do I participate in my large game season here in Minnesota, I also travel to Montana to hunt Muledeer.  As such, I always travel to the range this time of year to make sure that my gun is shooting accurately (there’s no worse feeling than wounding an animal when it’s avoidable).  This trip I was spotting for my friend and he was struggling a little bit with his new scope.  Here is what his target looked like:


I know I am a math geek, but after participating in both Data Review and New Item Review for my state’s assessments- I immediately saw math.  I think this is a great Line of Best Fit situation.  It would also be a good example to ask students if the line of best fit for the holes would be an accurate way to determine where the next shot will be (which I hope they reply it depends on other factors).

My problem is that while this happened on the shooting range, it is a weak thread to spark interest.  But a generic graph of the points is something I could have found in any textbook- it was neat that it happened in the context that it did.  It also isn’t the most appropriate topic for school now days.  So I’m wondering:

  1. Is this picture OK to use in the classroom?  If not, how would you change the picture or context of where the points originated from?
  2. Is there a better context to use than this?  Is this context too big of a stretch for this topic?
  3. Is this real world math?  If not, what is real world?  How would you define this scenario?

I’m very open to suggestions here.

In response to howardat58, here is what I was thinking for the classroom image:


Does this image lend itself more to a line of best fit?

2 thoughts on “Incidental Real World Mathematics

  1. I dont see a line of best fit unless I have the holes identified in sequence. Better to look at the advice you could give to the shooter, by at least looking at the average in the spread in the horizontal and in the vertical directions. There’s a good problem here about choice of axes and whether it is ok to draw the data in a flipped (across a horizontal) in order to avoid negative numbers. Go for it, upset a few people!!!

    • I was assuming to draw in an XY axis on the sheet, look at the last image and see if that makes you more comfortable with line of best fit. (surprisingly enough, they did occur in the order you would assume, left to right)

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