Practical Applications of Mathematics in Everyday Life
Historically, mathematics has been a subject that many students struggle with. How often have you heard a young learner utter the words, "I'm never going to use this stuff!?" as they are struggling to solve some algebra or calculus problems? For many parents and teachers, the utterance of this phrase (or ones like it) are too often a common occurrence in the classroom. Most people will respond to the students by saying that they may need it or a future job or that it improves the critical thinking ability of the brain. While these responses are good, and well intended, they don't serve the practical and immediate needs of the child. So perhaps next time that you hear a student struggling with math, you can gently remind them of these practical applications of math in our everyday life.
Probably the single most cited practical application for math in our everyday life is for money management. If you can't add or subtract correctly, its going to be very difficult for you to survive in our dollar driven society. Ok, so I know what your thinking, "The typical person who manages their own money has no need for math knowledge beyond the basic concepts of arithmetic, right?" Well this is in fact incorrect.
To be able to adequately understand the terms of a loan or an investment account, a basic understanding of higher math such as Algebra is required. You see, the interest (growth or payment terms) pertaining to these types of money markets utilize the concepts of exponential growth. For example, a typical mortgage will use the compound interest formula to determine how much interest needs to be paid each month.
If you're serious about managing your money, you could even use higher math to develop future projections of your spending habits. There is great value in this information; you can use it to plan future expenditures or even set goals for yourself. Below is a graph of my bi-weekly spending on groceries for the past year and a half.
What you'll notice in the above graph is that there is a nearly linear downward trend of my grocery spending. I can use the logarithmic equation to formulate an educated guess of my future spending habits. Since the best predictor of the future is the past, there is a good chance that this downward trend will continue for some time into the future (assuming nothing major in my life changes). As time progresses I am always adjusting the equations so that they reflect the best possible chance to accurately predict the future.
Anyone that repairs or remodels homes will tell you that math has helped them get the job done efficiently. Some basic math skills will enable you to determine how much material you need to purchase to finish the project right. For example, a tile installer will need to calculate the floor area of a room to determine how many tiles he needs to bring to the job site. An electrician uses math to figure out how much wire they need to install new electrical outlets. Carpenters will also be able to determine how much wood they need to build a structure. You will likely rely on some form of math even when you are doing something as simple as painting a room. Understanding basic math concepts will help any do-it-yourselfer save time and money.
In terms of home improvement, math can also help the homeowner answer other questions as well. For instance, if you have dripping faucet, you could measure the drip rate and determine how much water you would lose in any given amount of time. This could be equated to a dollar amount.
Another way math is useful around the house is with your electrical usage. With a little math, and some numbers from your utility bill, you can easily calculate how much money you spend leaving the lights on all the time. You can also compute the cost of microwaving your leftovers or playing computer games. For fun, I thought I would do a quick comparison of the cost of using a few different light bulbs to illuminate a room.
Cost Per 100 Hours*
Cost Per 10 Hours
Cost Per Year (6hrs/day)
The power of math enabled me to determine that the LED light has the lowest hourly cost associated with it (this does not account for the initial purchase price of the bulbs).
Exercise, Health, and Fitness
How can a little knowledge of math help with exercise, health and fitness? Well, there are plenty of places in this category for numbers to go. If you have ever tried to reduce your Body Mass Index by going on a diet, you've probably realized that counting calories was a good way to monitor your food intake. There are also several equations that you can use to calculate your body fat percentage on any given day. Obviously math can play a significant role in how someone progresses towards their weight loss goals.
If you have ever lifted weights, you have most likely used some math to determine how much weight you are lifting. Imagine how difficult the task of loading a barbell with weight would be if you could not add or multiply numbers. Most avid weight lifters like to keep records of all of their important numbers with regards to pumping iron. Most will be able to tell you what their one rep max is, as well has how much they can lift for a variety of sets and repetitions.
What about Algebra?
One thing that I often hear from the youngsters is that they think that Algebra is useless. Fortuneatly, this is incorrect. Not only does knowing Algebra help with your critical thinking skills, you can actually use it in everyday life as well. Here's an example from my personal life:
My car was low on coolant so I decided that I needed to fill up the reservoir with some more. I had a partially full jug of coolant that had been marked as a 70/30 mixture of anti-freeze and water (70% anti-freeze and 30% water). This was a problem as in most cases coolant mixtures should be 50% water and 50% anti-freeze. So exactly how much distilled water should I add to the jug to make the resulting mixture 50/50? Here's where some critical thinking and Algebra comes in handy:
I weighed the water/coolant mixture and found that it weighed 6.5lbs. Now I can set up an algebraic equation to solve for the amount of water in pounds needed to reach a 50/50 mix. The equations are shown below:
(6.5lbs)(30% water) + (Xlbs)(100% water) = (6.5lbs + Xlbs)(50% Water)
Reducing the equation:
195 + 100X = 325 + 50X
100X - 50X = 325 - 195
50X = 130
X = 130/50 = 2.6lbs
Therefore, I needed to add 2.6lbs of distilled water to the 70/30 mixture to convert it to a 50/50 mixture. With a little math I was able to solve the problem - No guessing or trips to the store were needed!
Is that It?
The uses of math for the layperson are essentially endless. I could probably write several more hubs on how math is used in everyday life. Personally I use math on a daily basis to measure, track, and forecast many things. Whether it's computing the gasoline efficiency of my vehicles (or the efficiency of an electric vehicle for that matter), determining how much food to make for dinner, or calculating the power requirements of a new car stereo system, math is like a second and universal language that helps me make sense of the world.
Questions & Answers
What are some professions that utilize mathematics?
Most jobs will require the use of some mathematics to be successful. However, the typical job may not ever require anything more advanced than multiplication or division.
With that said, mathematics is very important in engineering and design-type jobs as well as in the banking, finance, and insurance industries. Also, many science and technology jobs also require the use of mathematics.
How do you use math to calculate dinner?
Recipes - Almost all recipes require the use of standardized measurements to ensure repeatability as well as to maintain proper taste and seasoning levels. Units of measure such as the cup, the tablespoon, teaspoon, and things like ounces, gallons, pounds, etc. all play a role in recipe development. Without measurements like this and the use of mathematics, how would you double or half the recipe? How would you communicate the recipe to a friend or family member?
Calories Counting - One of the most common dieting methods is counting calories. Among other things, this utilizes mathematics to accomplish correctly. In this way, you can compute the calories provided by a meal such as a dinner and make adjustments as needed to fit your diet situation.
Macronutrient Monitoring - Just like counting calories, you can count or monitor your macronutrient intake. Bodybuilders, diabetics, and any curious person may want to know how many grams of carbohydrates, fat, or protein that they consumed. You can also compute the number of calories you obtained from each macronutrient as well. Every gram of carbohydrate and protein has about four calories of energy in it. Every gram of fat has about nine calories in it.
How Much Food to Make? - Just like figuring out a recipe, you will often need to know how much food to prepare for a meal. You may be hosting a party or having guests at your home so it would be wise figure out how much food you need to buy and prepare. Using a little bit of math can help you cook the right amount of food, so no one is left hungry.