Real Life Math Ideas to Encourage Summer Learning for High School Students

Real Life Math Ideas to Encourage Summer Learning for High School Students
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Keeping a high school math student’s skills sharp over the summer can provide a unique challenge for parents, particularly if it’s been a while since you have studied the concepts covered in your child’s algebra and geometry classes. Use real-life experiences to challenge and refresh your child’s skills.

Basic Math Skills

Many of the math skills your child will need throughout life were taught in basic math classes and middle school, so don’t forget those fundamental math skills. Making your child responsible for a gas budget and using rates that involve distance and time are real-life situations that require math skills, as are budgeting for food, clothing and entertainment.

Hypothetical math questions your child will be asked to solve on tests often involve everyday situations, such as comparing interest rates when financing a car or house, finding the appreciation or depreciation values of assets, calculating wages, finding tax or figuring tips.

For some ideas on what a basic math course entails, a used textbook from a local junior college can be a valuable resource. You can also find old math texts in your local thrift shop or online. Studying some of the word problems throughout the book will help you find situations in your home life in which your child can build on those math skills by applying them directly to actual situations.

Critical Analysis

Another way to explore math skills is to work with your child to analyze situations for mathematical angles. Begin with a few news studies involving medical science and ask your child to argue the validity of such studies by looking at the math involved. How many people were involved? Who funded the study and how well did it reflect the actual population? Taking a closer look at news headlines provides your child with a way to think mathematically about information.

Even topics such as climate change, political polling and sports stories incorporate math skills such as data analysis, probability, using percentages and graphs and studying graphed changes over time. For a quick math analysis activity, go through a batch of junk mail with your child and compare prices, review credit card offers and read offers for insurance or utilities, analyzing whether or not the offers have a “catch” or actually offer better prices for things you already pay for.

You can also use critical analysis to encourage your child’s use of algebra by seeking missing information in situations and writing equations to represent the information given and using variables to represent what is missing.


Projects and in-depth studies give your child a chance to take math skills and expand them, while strengthening skills and connecting prior knowledge with new ideas. You can choose a project that will help your child improve in a needed area or select an idea that gives your student an opportunity to explore new skills.

For example, if your child needs help with geometry, you might work together to build or create something your child would enjoy, such as a recreational space or a mural in the house. As you work with your child, take time to point out and apply basic geometry skills as your child works on the project.

If your child enjoys geometry, provide some basic drafting tools and let your child design blueprints for buildings or take on a task together such as laying flooring or building furniture.

The key to making projects more than just a fun activity is to correlate math skills with activities as you work, so that students make connections between the sometimes abstract concepts they learn in the classroom and the real life applications of those concepts.

If you have a student who is reluctant to use math skills, working together on projects that are high interest to the student helps. For example, if your child will be old enough to work and drive in the coming school year, figuring out a budget that includes earning a salary, paying for wants or needs and financing a car during the coming school year will be of high interest. Doing so may help motivate your child to use math skills, since the result will be a positive outcome for your child to look forward to when school starts again.

Working with your high school student over the summer can be an enjoyable process, as long as you remember to work at or just slightly above your child’s skill level. Working below a student’s skill level leads to boredom and pushing to far above may lead to frustration. Challenge your student just enough to enjoy the math activities you provide, making the time your child spends on math skills during the summer both productive and enjoyable.