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.
Math is also a great tool that can be used to help with landscaping projects. There are a variety of scenarios where this is the case, however, I will focus on one example in this article. Let’s say that you are trying to build a raised planter box that measures 8 feet long by 2 feet wide and 1 foot deep. You plan on purchasing a bagged soil mix from the home center. Each bag can fill a volume of 0.33 ft3, weighs 30lbs, and costs $2.50. How much dirt do you need to fill this planter box and how much is it going to cost? Additionally, you don’t have a truck and would need to transport the dirt in a back of a Honda Civic. The maximum payload for a Honda Civic is 850lbs. Considering your own weight (assume 200lbs for this example) how many bags of soil mix can you carry in the car and how many trips to the home center will you need to make.
There are several steps needed in order to solve this problem and answer the questions. First, calculate the volume of the dirt needed to fill the planter box:
Volume = 8ft x 2ft x 1ft = 16ft3
Next, divide that number by the volume of dirt provided in each bag to get the number of bags needed for the project:
Number of Bags = 16ft3/0.33ft3 = 48 Bags
Note that this calculation does not consider the effects of compaction (shrinkage) of the soil which would decrease its volume. Many soils could lose as much as 10-20% of its volume due to settlement, shrinkage, and compaction. The amount of compaction will depend on the soil type and is beyond the scope of this article.
Now that you know the number of bags needed, compute the total weight of the soil needed to fill the planter box:
Weight of Soil Needed = 48 Bags X 30lbs = 1,440lbs
Now we need to figure out how many bags of soil mix you can carry in your car on each trip. First, calculate the maximum weight of the soil that the car can hold given the payload capacity and the weight of the driver
Max soil = max payload – weight of driver = 850lbs – 200lbs = 650lbs
Next, divide the total soil weight needed for the project by the maximum payload that you can carry to get the minimum number of trips:
Number of trips = 1,440lbs/650lbs = 2.21
Since you cannot make 2.21 trips, you need to round up to a total of 3 trips. Since 3 trips are needed anyways, it makes sense to just buy 1/3 of the total number of bags on each of the trips. Therefore:
48 bags/3 trips = 16 bags per trip
Finally, to figure out the total price of the soil, multiply the number of bags times the price for each one:
Total Price = 48 Bags X $2.50 per bag = $120
Filling a Pool with Water
You just bought a new pool (or had one built) and are wondering how long it’s going to take to fill it up. Obviously, you want it filled with water sooner rather than later however you don’t want it to overflow while you are sleeping or at work. How can you ensure that the pool will reach the optimum level at a time when you are available to turn the water off? Using some math we can predict when the pool will be finished filling. We could also use math to set the fill rate such that it finishes filling at a specified time. Here are some example problems:
Your brand new below ground pool holds 11,000 gallons and you want to know how long it will take to fill up. To figure this out, you need to measure the flow rate of your nearby hose.
First, grab a 5 gallon bucket, a 1 gallon jug, and a stopwatch (or your phone). Use the 1 gallon jug to fill the bucket in 1 gallon increments, marking the inside at each 1 gallon interval. Once you’ve marked out 5 gallons, next grab a stopwatch and time how long it takes to fill the bucket to the 5 gallon mark. Do this 2 or 3 times and then compute the average of the measures.
For this sake of this article, let’s assume that it takes an average of 55 seconds to fill a 5 gallon bucket with water. Now you can compute the flowrate:
(5gallons/55seconds) X (60seconds/minute) = 5.45gallons per minute or 5.45gpm
Since the pool volume is 11,000 gallons, we can compute the fill time:
11,000gallons/5.45gpm = 2018.35 minutes
Convert to hours:
2018.35/60 = 33.6 hours
Now that you know how long the pool will take to fill, you can start filling it when it is convenient so that it doesn’t overflow. Alternatively, since you know the pool's volume you can specify a fill time and then calculate the flowrate need to achieve this.
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
- Helpful 8
- Helpful 5
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.Helpful 1
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.Helpful 1
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