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Making Math Relevant to High School Learners

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: Amanda Grove • updated: 1/5/2012

Making math relevant and meaningful for high school students can be a challenge. Using a math lesson plan with a focus on daily living math skills can make your math content relevant for special needs learners at the high school level.

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    Dropping out of Math in High School

    Some students struggle for many years with math. They may lack the basic skills to succeed at math, or they may have missed critical periods of schooling during their early years which makes the fundamental processes difficult to understand. For some students, they are simply not at a cognitive level of maturity which allows them to cope with the more advanced and abstract thinking required in senior math classes. Ultimately these students sometimes lose the chance to understand how daily living math can be a real and vital part of their everyday lives.

    These students are at risk of 'dropping out' - deciding the curriculum is simply not for them, and refusing to engage with or attempt math class anymore. From a teaching point of view, these students can be problematic as they may engage in disruptive behavior, be demanding of teacher time and attention or create difficulties for other students in the class. Down the track, these students may struggle to manage well in a workplace environment where math skills and knowledge is a requirement of their work.

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    The Math and Living Skills Link

    One solution to help meet these students' needs is to provide math lessons which relate clearly and explicitly to their daily lives. Students can be engaged by asking them to suggest learning tasks, or by allowing them to choose from a number of provided options to help them learn a particular concept or skill. The name of the game with these special needs learners is to show the importance of daily living math through lesson plans that are engaging, fun and practical.

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    Daily Living Math Examples

    Here are some daily living math skills examples to try with your own students:

    Recipes - these can be used for lessons on weights and measures, comparison of materials, learning about the different types of measuring systems used in other countries, revision of fractions and conversion of fractions to decimals, learning about different methods for measuring temperature, making predictions and estimations, collating and organizing materials into a recipe book for the class, using tools and equipment to complete mathematical tasks and for using formulas for calculating the food and beverage quantities needed for a particular number of party guests.

    Shopping - collect brochures or go online to look at sales or promotional material for various products appropriate for teenagers, such as clothing, surfer, computer games, video games, I-pods, music DVDs and so on. Learn about the effect of discounting and how to calculate a discount applied to a whole or fractional number, as well as how to budget for desired items, how to walk away and think about a purchase, and what impact credit card use will have on the total cost of a purchase. These tasks could be extended into online research into consumer protection agencies and their importance for young people.

    Cooking - try scaffolding a cooking lesson so that more highly enumerate students perform calculations and measurements while those who need more practice help select the correct measuring tools (cups, spoons, etc.) and read the quantities in the recipe.

    Chat with your special needs learners about daily living math lesson plans that they would like to cover in class - after all, it's their learning! Look for math resources which are based around life skills and provide opportunities for math practice in practical areas of daily living.

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    Constant Reinforcement

    By constantly reinforcing previously learned skills in math, you are able to ensure students keep existing skills solidly in their repertoire whilst also expanding into new areas. Provide practical activities such as reading a phone bill, checking change in a store or performing a quick calculation using a sample take away menu as ways of reinforcing daily living math skills.


  • Teacher experience.