Adult Ed
Math in Your Life


Activity One: Setting the Stage
Activity Two: Interest Groups
Activity Three: Writing Word Problems
Activity Four: Making a Math Test

Activity One: Setting the Stage

Step 1 Ask students to give examples of how they used math recently. If students need help getting started, give them a few clues. Ask them how they used math for shopping or budgeting, for figuring out how long it would take to get somewhere, or for dividing something into equal pieces or amounts. You can also give a few examples from your own life:

"I was at the store buying food for dinner. I watched the register to make sure the prices that the cashier was ringing up were correct. The sign said that the ice cream was $1.99, but it rang up as $2.59. I told her the sign said $1.99. She checked it and then took 60 cents off my total."

Step 2 Write the class's examples on the blackboard.

Step 3 Ask students to write a few paragraphs explaining how they used math recently. They can use the list on the board to remind them of how math is used in everyday life. They should include:
  • Why they needed math
  • How they did the math
  • The results they achieved
Step 4 Ask for a few volunteers to share their writing with the whole group.

Step 5 Tell the class that they should listen for the ways in which math was used.

Step 6 The listeners explain how math was used. Then the writer tells the class whether the listeners' report was accurate.

Step 7 Tell the writer that she has the option of revising her piece if it needs to be clarified more for the group.

Step 8 Split up the class into small groups and ask them to repeat the process above. Each student reads their piece, and the rest of the group tells them about the math they used. The writer considers revision to make the piece clearer if needed.

Step 9 Collect the final versions of the examples to use for later activities. (See below.)

You have to judge how much support your students need in discussing the math they use in their everyday lives. Some students may be well aware of the role of math in their lives, and they will have lots of examples to put on your brainstorming list. Other students will need more support. You may need to suggest categories or give several examples. Questions that might help students realize how much math they use might include:
  • Do you use math when you cook? How do you know how much of something to make? Do you measure?
  • How do you use math when you shop? Do you estimate the cost of what's in your cart? How do you figure out sale prices such as 25% off?
  • How do you know your paycheck is correct?
  • How do you figure out how much time it will take to get to places? How do you get to places on time?
  • Do you have to divide things up for your kids or among friends?
  • How is math used in any sports you watch?

Activity Two: Interest Groups

In this activity students explore how math is used in different areas of life. They discuss, share ideas, do some research and present their information to the class.

Step 1Write the following list on the board:
  • Shopping
  • Sports
  • Cooking
  • Building
  • Paychecks
Ask students if they can think of any other areas in life where math is important. Add their suggestions to the list.

Step 2 Break the class into small groups based on students' interests.

Step 3 Pick a facilitator, a recorder, and a speaker in each group.
  • The facilitator leads the discussion, making sure everyone gets a chance to talk.
  • The recorder takes notes.
  • The presenter presents the ideas to the whole class. (Presenters should review the recorders' notes before presenting.)

Step 4 Allow groups 15 minutes to discuss how math is used in their interest area.

Step 5 Tell the groups that they have 10 more minutes to sum up information to report back to the class.

Step 6 Have each group report their summaries to the class.

Extension: More Research
If the groups want to know more about math in their areas of interest, they can do research and give formal presentations to the class.

Activity Three: Writing Word Problems

Step 1 Write a few word problems with the group

  1. Pick one area of interest from the small groups.
  2. Ask that group for an example of math used in that area. One example might be to figure out how much money someone will make in a week based on an hourly wage.
  3. Leave out one piece of information to create the word problem. For example, "I made $440 dollars this week. I worked 40 hours. How much money do I make an hour?"
  4. Create four possible choices for multiple-choice-question answers.
  5. Create a couple of questions and answers as a whole group.

Step 2 Group and individual work

In small groups and as individuals, have the students generate more word problems.
  1. Break the class into small groups. The groups can be the same groups from previous activities, or the groups can be mixed.
  2. Have each person write a word problem.
  3. Each person reads their word problem to the group. They can also write it on flip charts if available.
  4. The group works to solve each person's word problem
  5. After the word problems are all answered, have the group work together to come up with four possible answers for each problem (one right and three wrong). This turns the problems into multiple choice questions.
  6. Have each group report back on their process. Save the problems and answers for the next activity.

Activity Four: Making a Math Test

Collect everyone's word problems. Create a couple of tests that include all of the problems. You can go in several directions with this:
  1. Have the class take the tests.
  2. Have the class review, critique, and revise the tests.
  3. If you have more than one class, you can have different classes take each other's tests.
  4. Have the classes or groups write feedback to each other.


After working with the tests your students created, you can move on to other tests. Ask students to critique, discuss, and even suggest revisions to the tests.