Students often ask “How is Math used in the real world?” It’s not unusual to want to know how the things you learn will make a difference in your life. Sometimes, it can be hard to make the connections between finding the hypotenuse of a right triangle and applying that to real-world situations. Lacking these comparisons, the subject often feels pointless to many people. Even though people say “Math is important,” it becomes less convincing when no one can explain how. We all know that basic math plays some role in the day to day, but what about the more complex Math concepts? Below are just a few examples of the many ways Math applies to your everyday life.
Arithmetic, or basic Math, is used by everyone. Whether you’re trying to calculate the amount of change the cashier owes you or you want to figure out how much each item in a bulk package costs, you’re using Arithmetic. For example, say you are trying to make the decision between buying one item or buying in bulk to save money. Since you will be paying more money overall, you want to make sure it is worth it to buy the package or if you should just buy individually as necessary. If item A costs $1.00 and a pack of 5 is $4.50, we can divide the 4.50 by 5 to find out that each item in the package costs $0.90. You can then make a better decision about whether saving the 10 cents per item is worth buying the package now. Sometimes you may find out that you’re not saving much if you do the math.
Most people start learning Algebra in Middle School and High School. In Algebra, new concepts such as variables (unknown numbers) and functions (think of these as basic mathematical programs) start appearing. These are helpful when we want to figure out how values will change depending on changes within the systems we create. If you are driving and want to know how long it will take you to get to your destination, you use the function “total distance divided by current speed.” If you know you will travel 300 miles and you are driving 60 mph, you will arrive in roughly 5 hours. If you intend to save $50 per month and you want to know how much money you will have in 12 months, you can use the function 50m (50 times the number of months, designated in the function as “m”) as a shortcut to figuring out what you want to know instead of adding 50 again and again and again. Algebra helps us save time by putting together rules like the ones mentioned above. Once you understand how different quantities work with one another (like speed vs. time or saving rate vs. time), you can establish a function that will save you time in figuring out the other values you want to know. Functions can be simple, like the ones above, or more complex, like the function used to figure out how much interest you earn on money deposited in a savings account: A = P (1 + r/n) (nt).
With Geometry, Math starts to take into account the mathematical properties of shapes and the relationships between the parts of different shapes. Geometry relates to the skill of spatial awareness. Understanding the relationships between shapes, angles, and other properties can improve your ability to move around in the real world. If you play sports, you may find it useful to know that the shortest route between two points will always be travel diagonally instead of along the edges of the field. Having a better understanding of angles can greatly enhance your accuracy in kicking/hitting a ball. Math can also be used to create stunning works of art, like in the video below. Math is also fundamental in creating the beautifully intricate patterns found in Islamic Geometric Art, kinetic sculptures, Architecture, computer graphics, and more. If you want to build something, Geometry helps you determine how much material you need so that you don’t accidentally buy more or less than you need, saving you time and money. If you like cooking and want to measure quantities or figure out exactly how to divide a cake, for example, into the perfect slices, you need Geometry.
We use statistics all the time to make decisions about whether a choice is worth our time or to learn more about a particular subject. Statistics helps us collect and organize data into formats that are meaningful to us. We can then use that information to figure out our next course of action. The economy, for example, is one subject that is often on many people’s minds, and how we view the health of the economy depends on statistical information. One funny way of measuring the health of economies (though, it’s not the most accurate indicator) is the Big Mac Index. Yes, I said Big Mac, as in McDonalds. Because McDonalds exist almost everywhere in the world and the main menu items stay pretty consistent across countries, you can use the cost of a Big Mac as an informal way to tell you a lot more about how a country is doing (More explained in the video below). Statistics allows us to make valuable comparisons, even if they’re quite kooky, to help us figure out what we want to do next.
Calculus comes into play when we want to figure out problems that have a lot of unknown parts, a lot of parts in general, or get an incredibly accurate answer. The average person comes into contact with Calculus the most through Google. It’s very hard to figure out which are the best websites that match what you are looking for on a search engine. As I write this post, it is estimated that there are 644 million – 1 billion websites on the internet. That’s a lot to sift through. Calculus helps Google (and any company that you interact with) organize information about products and information related to your preferences to give you the best results. Calculus is also employed by large organizations because they are trying to solve complex problems, and using these mathematical models can help them find the answer and save billions of dollars in the process. If a scientist is trying to predict the weather a month (or even a few years) from now, they use mathematical models based in Calculus. The next cures for major diseases like heart disease and cancer will come as a result of decades of research involving, in part, Calculus.
Calculus is also employed by large organizations because they are trying to solve complex problems, and using these mathematical models can help them find the answer and save billions of dollars in the process. If a scientist is trying to predict the weather a month (or even a few years) from now, they use mathematical models based in Calculus. The next cures for major diseases like heart disease and cancer will come as a result of decades of research involving, in part, Calculus. Governments use Calculus to create models for population growth, economy, and more to figure out how to plan for the future. Car companies use Calculus to determine how to design cars to be safer. Have you ever wondered why newer cars tend to crumple while older cars stay largely intact after an accident? That’s an intentional result based on research based in Calculus, Physics, and Material Science. The car absorbs as much of the energy as it possibly can from an accident so that your body doesn’t get damaged.
Calculus is even used in art. If you loved movies like Finding Nemo, Frozen, or Toy Story, or you love playing modern video games, you can thank Calculus. The level of detail achieved by animation is due to creating mathematical models for different parts of the scenery and characters. A 2-minute animation would require drawing roughly 1440 pictures – that’s how it used to be done, and everything was done by hand. For a movie like Frozen, it would require redrawing every strand of hair, sequin, expression, and more 78,000+ times to put the movie together. That’s why it takes about 4-7 years to make one animated movie! It it weren’t for Calculus, modern animated films or video games would take decades, not years, to finish.
Ralston is the CEO and owner of Strive Academics. He loves relating topics to real world applications and showing students how any subject has a role in their interests. He is a lifelong student and loves to learn new facts and ways to apply that information in his day to day life. Students are much more engaged and find that subjects are much more interesting when they can see how it relates to their interests.