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Got Math

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GOT MATH? "I am NEVER going to use this!" I hear this all the time from the young people I work with. I teach math students at all levels at Silverbrook Middle School in West Bend, Wisconsin. When I say we use math all the time, they reply, "I am going to be rich and then I won’t have to do math!" Middle school students are very quick thinkers, but often don't think long term. I want to help them change that! SO, GOT MATH? I am looking for your help. If you could please take a few minutes to write a paragraph or two describing how you use math in your daily life, I will share it with my kids in hopes of opening their eyes to the importance of learning math today for their future tomorrow. You can email your paragraph back to me at or you can send a written copy to my attention. Attn: Kathleen Orr Silverbrook Middle School 120 North Silverbrook Drive West Bend, WI 53095 If you know anyone else that you think would be able to help with this project, please feel free to forward this on to them. Thanks for your time! Kathleen Orr

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Stephanie Richardson's picture

Hi Kathleen;

I'll e-mail this to you as well.

Your students who do become wealthy, especially, will want to make sure they know their math. It takes just a look at any national newspaper or a quick online search to see how often the wealthy entrust their money to financial managers and then lose everything because they were not savvy enough to know they were being taken.

One request - would you please post all the answers back here when you get them? I know scores of teachers who would be interested in seeing them. Perhaps when you have them compiled, some tecchie-type member of a group here or a student would be willing to use them to create an electronic poster for schools to use!

Betty Ray's picture
Betty Ray
Director of Programming and Innovation

I asked some of my colleagues to answer this question, and here are their answers...A pretty fun list! What are some others?

Tina: i do math for a living. not only is the pay pretty damn good, it is also a field that tends to always have job openings.

Michael: If you're rich, you really should know how to count your money.

Charlene: you might not do algebra programs as an adult, but you won't get smart enough to get rich if you don't do math in school!

Keith: It's not about whether algebra itself is used in daily life, in my mind. It's about the skills one develops; logic, learning that sometimes the order of things matters, and sometimes you can play with the order of things and still get the correct answer--you just have to know when. I suppose math can also show you a way through complexity. It also contains concepts that are mind-broadening, like set theory. I've found higher math to be most fun when I felt like I was solving a mystery. When you get the answer wrong, the analysis of the mistake is a reflective moment that reveals your thought processes to yourself. Math teaches you to think, and that's what you'll definitely need to get rich--even if you're a dirty rotten scoundrel....

Sean: I count the money that I pay my posse with. If I didn't have math skills, I may be paying them too much and wouldn't even know it.

Michael: I use math on a daily basis for work because I work on high traffic websites and need it for any number of calculations or estimates that deal with things like traffic and bandwidth. Statistics in particular can come in handy.

For non-work related items, math is incredibly useful when you're trying to estimate your taxes and figure out how to maximize what money you get to keep (which is incredibly useful when you are or aren't wealthy).

Kate: when you're so rich that all you do is eat out at fancy restaurants and travel around the world and buy real will still need to calculate tips on all those restaurant bills, pay your bills and balance your checkbooks (wouldn't want to run out of all that money), not to mention calculate the cost of all those expensive trips, homes and clothes that they are going to buy! ;-)

Carolyn: Recently I was asked to create a piece of art in a 4:5 aspect ratio!

Andrew: I use it to count all my money. Now that I'm rich, you know...

Rhonda: Remind them of how MC Hammer went broke because he did not supervise his accountants and spent more than he earned. Remind them of how many rich people were swindled by Madoff. Rich people who don't "do the math" often end up worse than where they started. You use math every day even if it's just to budget and balance a bank account.

Jahna: Silly kids...must be related to my middle school students. they still think math is about numbers.

Max: Artists who build things use math.

Rhonda: Just thought of a few more things - understanding your credit card interest rates, getting a mortgage and understanding the rate and amortization schedule, and understanding an escrow disbursment statement, shopping at a department store discount sale, e.g., 20% off and an additional 10% if a store credit card is used...I could go on! (I have to confess that I've really found little use for the calculus class that I took though.)

Phillip: I wonder what they plan to do to get rich. As a psych researcher I calculated dosages to give to subjects in my experiments. As a photographer I calculated exposure (easier now with computer run cameras, but it's still really important to understand how the ratios work between f-stop and exposure time.) As a producer, I created budgets and programmed spreadsheets to help my company get video projects to make money. As a partner in a business I had to review budgets and spend lots of money so I could buy equipment and pay my employees etc... a bit of math involved there. As a homeowner I had to use math to pick a mortgage that made sense... and nobody foreclosed on my home.

Kevin: I use math to win at poker :)

Kevin: I use math to figure out how rich or poor I am at any given moment.

Sharona: yes, i calculate the percentage/discount i get in my head in advance of the cashier, so i know how much I am gonna spend/get discounted. some cashiers can't even figure out the change when i add a few extra cents and they've already punched in the numbers.

Pat: I don't still have it, but I wrote up a laundry list of ways a graphic designer uses math for my wife when she was teaching a college prep math class. Among the bullet points were measuring, copyfitting, scaling by percentages, converting between points/picas/inches, doing budgeting, billing, bookkeeping and taxes. I summed up the bit by noting that if I didn't know math I would be out on the street begging for change, which is a bummer because even that requires basic math.

Patty: hmmmm I use math every day at work for calculating drug dosages, especially when changing someone from fentanyl or morphine to methadone. gotta calculate that accurately!

Rob: I would put a big list of different kinds of cool jobs on the chalk board and have the kids make a list of the 5 they think are the coolest. Then explain how math is used in each one.
You know like astronaut, fireman, rocket scientist, pilot, race car mechanic, race car driver etc. May not work for the kids who want to be football and rock stars though.

Rob: Oh and calculating a rooms reverb time or resonance frequency and taking a speakers specs and building a proper box for it so your trunk lid will buzz at all the people on the street properly.

Rob: Actually I would just ask them how they are going to get rich.

Kathy: Or, how will they know they are rich if they can't count their money. Also: Math used for building iPod Touch games.

Debra: To Rob, HAVE Dreams had a benefit, an ex-rich football player was washing dishes for a living because he thought he didn't need Math when he was in school.

Patrick: I use math to design spaceships for Hollywood.

Jennifer: Answers from middle schoolers: Rowan: If you're rich, you need to know how to budget your money without being super-stupid and getting poor again.
Sophie: How do you expect to get rich? If you plan on being a rock star you need to calculate how much each ticket should cost to cover the cost of the event.

Tami: Right. What jobs are there that have nothing to do with math? List some of those, and see if they imagine doing them later in life. Dishwasher was one.

Kathleen Orr's picture
Kathleen Orr
Middle School Math Teacher from West Bend, Wisconsin

Greetings all!
Thanks Stephanie and Betty for posting! Our focus (or one of them)as a distric this year is Rigor, Relevance and Relationships. My students ask me the questions about when they are going to use this, but I thought they might "get" the relevance of it, if they heard back from other people how they use math in their lives. They often don't think of teachers as "real" people.

I totally appreciate the suggestions you guys have provided! This idea is growing as it goes. I was searching the internet and stumbled upon Edutopia, and am very excited that you are sharing your math ideas with me!

I will share as they come in! Thanks again!

Jeannie's picture

Hi Kathleen,

Something I've started doing this year is doing different kinds of Math on Fridays. The kids who don't think they're Math people forget to worry about it. I use Marilyn Burns lessons from this read aloud package we have at my school. There are a bunch of different picture books that Marilyn Burns has written really awesome lessons for. The kids love it. I know it might sounds too young for middle school but I don't think it is. The lessons all seem really relevant, to the story if not everyday life.

Also, I start Fridays by having the kids estimate how many coffee beans are in some container, different every week. They have to write their estimate and how they came up with it in their Math notebook. This is something they enjoy more than I ever thought they would. After we've all guessed, I take a scoop that holds about 250 beans and we count how many scoops are in the container. I think estimation like this is good for their "real" lives. We have all gotten a lot better at estimating already!

Lastly, I would suggest you look into anything by Kim Sutton. She is a fabulous math teacher. I don't really like the cheesy graphics in her books, but her math games and activities are really great. She has a way of making even complicated concepts very concrete.

These are some ideas that have helped me hook the kids who think they don't like Math. Hope they help!

Kathleen Orr's picture
Kathleen Orr
Middle School Math Teacher from West Bend, Wisconsin

Thank you for contacting me about how important math is in every day life. I would like to share a few ways that math is important to my job.

One of the most important aspects of my job as a Senator is to decide how to spend taxpayer money. Congress spends money on important programs that help people all over the country by funding schools like yours and defending our country. To determine how much money to commit to these different programs, every year Congress debates and passes a budget for the Federal government. A strong foundation in math is important to making sure that I can do this part of my job well.

Another part of my job that requires math skills is managing my personal office budget. Like a business, I have staff and bills to pay. All Congressmen and Senators have a set budget that they must adhere to. I have spent taxpayer money carefully and have returned more than $5 million in unspent office budget funds to the Treasury. To do this, I made sure that I didn't spend more than I had.

These are just a couple of examples of how I use math in my job every day to make sure that we spend money responsibly. I appreciate you contacting me. Please continue your efforts on behalf of our youth and tell your students to keep up the hard work in all of their classes.
Herb Kohl
United States Senator

Kathleen Orr's picture
Kathleen Orr
Middle School Math Teacher from West Bend, Wisconsin

One of our local tv stations has a local talk show. They taped a segment on how they use math in their lives. It has inspired our math team to do that as well with parents and students. We are going to loan the school video cameras out to students/ parents and have the parents share how they use math in their daily lives. YEAH more math!!

Bill Kuhl's picture

I have worked with computers for over 20 years, first as a computer programmer and now in more of a support role. Although I can not say that I have had to use high level math, what I have used in my job constantly are logic skills which is the basis for math. I had created what I thought was a practical math exercise to go along with my model aviation website and it has been the least popular part of the website.

I had found some interesting math videos that are linked to from my ScienceGuy website, not very popular either.

What I see in many jobs is the increased amount of data that is being collected and analyzed. An example was an auto mechanic instructor was showing me the equipment that is attached to the computer of a modern vehicle, so much data is captures and displayed as graphs. I commented to him that you would have to understand graphs well to understand this, he agreed completely.

Bill Kuhl

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