If you have ever followed a recipe, you have used algebra.
Sat down to plan the layout of the living room? There is geometry in angles and corners.
Remember the bar argument over NFL player averages? Statistics got you a round of beer.
We are all mathematicians. Even then we ask — what is the role of math in everyday life? It’s a common question, and we still don’t see the answers. Math isn’t only the nightmare of homework from childhood. One-touch smartphone calculators and personal digital assistants bring us the answers, but mathematics remains a life skill.
But how enjoyable is it? Here are 12 sites that bring you the wonders of everyday math, and some problem solvers to take on the challenges.
This comprehensive website answers one basic question for you — what do you do with a mathematics education?
Before anything else, let me direct you to this article which profiles a few people who use math in daily life. If you are confused about career prospects, the profiles ranging from a structural engineer to a Lt. Commander in the Royal Navy make for a good read . For further inspiration, read the interviews. From the looks of it, the site isn’t updated very often, but the content stands the test of time.
The site is maintained by The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (UK), a charity which promotes and supports understanding, teaching, research and applications of mathematics.
Look for interesting career directions in your own country with a simple Google search. I am sure you will find many interesting ideas. The combination of a math degree and working knowledge of a programming language opens up the horizon.
Get The Math is an interactive website detailing the use of math in daily life. Made for middle and high schoolers, the “quiz-show” style site is applicable for all ages. Interactive video modules help teens develop algebraic thinking skills for solving real-world problems. Young adults working in video games, restaurants, basketball, and special effects explain how they use math in their daily work. They pose questions to two teams, and viewers come up with their own answers.
Here’s one example from the About page:
NBA player Elton Brand describes his path to a career in the NBA before posing a challenge related to free throw shooting. The teams use three key variables – release height, initial vertical velocity, and acceleration of gravity – to calculate the maximum height the ball will reach on its way into the basket. (Algebra I concept: Quadratic functions)
Dr. Maria Droujkova contributes to math learning worldwide, with a site that has morphed into a community and forum for discussion. The variety of users and uses highlighted on the site helps to understand the role math plays in everyday life.
Read the articles in the MAKE series that take you through math concepts introduced with DIY approaches. Interesting articles like Lisa’s Story and Professor Yutaka Nishiyama’s inspirational post on math in everyday life should pique your interest.
This is a course on math without the math. In their own words, the open MIT course teaches “the art of educated guessing and opportunistic problem-solving”. The course develops your reasoning skills by using six techniques: dimensional analysis, easy cases, lumping, pictorial reasoning, taking out the big part, and analogy.
The exercises involve mental calculation, estimating population growth rates, understanding drag without differential equations, singing musical intervals to estimate logarithms, approximating integrals, summing infinite series, and turning differential equations into algebra.
This is available as an archived course on edX. You will not be able to take part in real-time interactions now, but you can go through the seven-week course and learn at your own pace.
A well-organized learning resource for adult learners created by Annenberg Media. Thirteen chapters with lessons, videos, and Java applets take you through mathematics history, from the Pythagoreans to the present day RSA encryption.
An amazingly entertaining YouTube channel all about — you guessed it — numbers and maths-related stuff. I will let the videos do the talking. Or just the one above which taught me a lesson in coin tossing.
The channel is supported by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) and has a sister channel all about computers and technology called Computerphile.
GeoGebra gives you a set of mathematical tools to create models and work with the data. Models can be interactively explored by changing the numbers and dragging the 2D and 3D objects around. Geometry, algebra, spreadsheets, graphing, statistics and calculus are covered.
This graphing calculator might not get rid of your fear of math, but it will transport a hitherto “dull’ subject into the realms of interestingness. You might even call it “cool”. With that small win, learning plots, regressions, derivatives, and graphs could be fun again.
The powerful graphing calculator is a free iOS and Android app. It can be used by both students and teachers. But the website is also worth a visit. If only to flex your creative muscles with projects like Des-man.
Sticking with graphs for a moment, Graphing Story is a small project by Dan Meyer. It’s a simple concept which asks you to take a video of an everyday event (e.g. weight-lifting) and create a simple graph. The idea is to show the relationship between time and the event. Everything can be graphed, and our graphs grow better when we understand the event (or vice-versa).
Some of these may seem obvious, but scratch below the surface and you see how real-world events can trigger your curiosity and make learning more interesting.
Sometimes everyone needs a tutor for some handholding. Or at least a math-solver tool that holds your hand through the steps of a solution. Enter CyMath with its simple clutter-free interface and intent to show you the how and why of a math problem. Enter your problem, and watch it being solved step-by-step on the site or with the Android app. CyMath covers high-school and college level algebra and calculus.
Take your algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus, and statistics problems to the online problem solver. Understand the process with its step-by-step solutions. The site has a handy worksheet creator for teachers which can help them quickly set up assignments.
The mere mention of statistics is enough to make the room yawn. A good resource like Gapminder stifles it. Gapminder is free software that anyone can use to chart trends with animated statistical data. Even before you do that, watch Professor Hans Rosling, co-founder of Gapminder Foundation use Gapminder to explain everything that’s happening in the world. Or just watch this 4-minute BBC video:
And their motto? “Making sense of the world by having fun with statistics!”
There is a statistically significant chance that you will not brush up on Bayes rule and Binomial Theorems. But change your view of the world and the site’s purpose is served.
Overcome Your Fear of Math
There are of course umpteen more resources on rebooting your math education.
A computation engine like Wolfram Alpha can be used to crunch the numbers for daily needs. Wolfram Alpha has a range of tools like Wolfram Course Assistant Apps and Wolfram Mathworld to help you continue your education. As a parent, you can use the math to teach your kids just as easily.
“But I am bad at math!”
She has the experience of failing in algebra. Yes, I did say she was a rocket scientist.
What’s your math story? Do you love it or hate it? More importantly — are you planning to do something about it?