It is a sincere, meaningful, inquisitive, observant, pragmatic, and unbelievably common question that every math teacher will hear ad nauseum: “when are we ever going to use this in real life?” When kids or adults ask this very simple question, I embrace it.  I strive to be transparent about everything I teach, and as much as I love math, I recognize that certain careers and specific life trajectories do not involve the many pieces of math that we learn during our education.  That being said, math is truly enmeshed in most of life pursuits, more so than any other subject matter.  So, if your questions about the applications of math have been rebuffed, I encourage you to grab a small glass of milk and prepare yourself for a laconic essay on the applications of math.  If you would rather watch a four minute video on the topic, click the video below.

At the store

The wheels of commerce grind forward each and every day in stores across the globe.  Whenever you make a purchase for groceries, clothes, light fixtures, cameras, pajamas, or coffee, the basic principles of math are being used to manage and monitor cash flows. Every purchase requires a modicum of understanding of how budgets work and the affordability of items. While short-term decisions such as buying groceries may only require knowing how to count, add, subtract, and manipulate decimals, larger purchases of items like cars and homes requires knowledge of interest rates, amortization charts, and mortgage payments. A thorough understanding of these principles can help you save you a substantial amount of cash when you need to make such heavy purchases.

In nature and art

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 and so on ad infinitum.  Can you predict the next number in this infinite sequence?  For you math savvy folks who instantly pictured the number “21,” bravo. This famous series of numbers is called the Fibonacci Sequence.  Each successive number is calculated by adding the previous two numbers. While it is fun to attempt to decode this slightly mysterious pattern of enumeration, it is a profound arrangement of digits to say the least. This sequence is found in spades throughout nature. Objects like pineapples, sunflowers, nautilus shells, and pine cones (to name a few) all contain patterns that follow this lovely blueprint. The geometric concept of symmetry, which is the property an object possesses when a line can divide it into two mirror images, is a central component of the attraction equation.  Sometimes we look at something and consider it beautiful, while other times we find it unappealing. Why? Despite our belief that this is a subjective judgment based on personal preference alone, scientists and mathematicians alike have found a mathematical principle behind these judgments: symmetry. Symmetrical objects appear more attractive to us and draw our eyes towards them. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man is an emblem of the perfect symmetry exemplified in the human body, a succinct explanation for why we as humans are drawn to one another.

In the Kitchen

Every cooking recipe involves whole numbers and fractions. Ingredients are always measured in particular units, and those units are then broken down into wholes and parts.  It is common to add a ½ tbsp of sugar, 2 cups of milk, a ¼ tbsp of butter, and 3 tsp of salt to whatever confection that floats your boat.  But to make that special dish taste truly delicious, you must measure those ratios and proportions correctly.  If you plan to work as a professional chef, the onus may one day be on you to perform conversion calculations in your head between gallons and liters, grams and ounces, or celsius and fahrenheit.

On the Road

Whenever you’re on the road, you must consider the rate of fuel consumption and the time it will take to get from Point A to Point B. When attempting to travel conscientiously, knowing your miles-per-gallon when fueling up ensures that you will make it to your destination without extra and unnecessary stops at a cost-efficient price point. Furthermore, calculations are constantly being made, either by you or a third party application, with regards to the time it will take you to drive to a particular destination. You must factor traffic, construction, and a variety of other components to be sure that you will be on time. Whether you use Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze, or some other application, each must analyze several thousand routes, consider estimated driving time, and factor in general traffic trends as well as real-time data from users. These GPS technologies must perform calculations on the fly so that they can present alternate routes in an instant to get you to your final destination on time. Needless to say, none of this GPS awesomeness would be possible without math.