Math in Real Life

“When am I ever going to need to know this?” That phrase that makes teachers cringe. We cringe not because we cannot easily come up with an answer, but because it means we have failed to connect the content to real life in the first place!

I’ve been preparing for my son’s upcoming Sesame Street birthday party, and this morning it afforded me the opportunity to do some math, in real life. I needed a large cardboard cutout of Big Bird. Now if this had happened during a school year, I’d just turn on my projector and trace that awkward lumbering muppet. In the summer I don’t have those resources. It became clear that I would need to scale the drawing using a grid.

The picture I printed of Big Bird was 6cm by 12cm and the foamboard I had was 20 inches by 30 inches. So I have a ratio of 1:2 and 2:3. I would need to measure and exclude portions of the cardboard from the gridded area. At that moment, I wished I had a pack of 5th graders, not just because I’d like to outsources some of this party prep, but because I want to see what they can do in a problem solving group.


You are going to see a lot of bad cell phone pictures on this site.

This would be a great lesson for the end of the year. The link is already there, just tell a story about having to do a scale drawing for a birthday party decoration. You could either ask them to “help with the party” or let them help make decorations for their classroom or bedroom.

Materials Needed: a variety of small, printed line drawings for the students to choose from, larger paper or poster board, rulers, yard sticks, pencils, markers, scratch paper for planning

Skills Involved: fractions, reducing fractions, ratios, measurement, scale, converting units of measure, spatial reasoning, problem solving

Differentiation: The easiest version of this would be creating a larger model of an already gridded drawing on an already gridded poster. A step up would be providing a gridded drawing and having the students create the grid on the equally proportioned poster board. More difficult than that would be a situation more like I was in, where the ratio of your dimensions require you to adjust the size of the poster, and you create your own grids.

An assignment like this is valuable because it is hands on and there are more than one right ways to accomplish the task. Additionally gridded drawings usually surprise students who claim they cannot draw. I pretend to identify with them there, but in reality I’ve never had that problem. My problem is cutting. By the time I was done, it didn’t matter that I carefully cut him out with an x-acto knife. It looked like it had been angrily sawed with a steak knife. That’s what I really need a pack of 5th graders for, cutting this stuff out for me. (with safe, age appropriate instruments)



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