Have you ever listened to weather forecasts and wondered whether there’s any difference between partly cloudy and mostly cloudy, or a chance of rain versus a slight chance of rain? In fact, all of those terms have precise meanings based on probabilities. If the sky is partly cloudy, about three to four eighths of it will be covered by clouds, and a slight chance of rain means the odds are about 20 percent that at least 0.01 inches of rain will fall somewhere in the forecast area.
Weather forecasts illustrate the central role that math plays in many aspects of everyday life. They are based on sophisticated computer models that analyze data from weather balloons, radar, and satellites. Modern weather forecasting saves lives and money by warning us in advance of major storms.
Mathematics organizations have designated April as Mathematics Awareness Month. This year’s theme, “Math Drives Careers,” focuses on the many fields where math plays an important role, from energy production to medicine to business. Many of these jobs don’t have “mathematician” in the title, but draw heavily on math and statistical skills.
Consider some of the ways in which math shapes your day beyond providing a weather forecast. Transit companies use algorithms to map the most efficient routes and schedules for the buses we ride to work and school. Utilities use math to forecast how much power they will need to keep our air conditioners running on hot days. Grocery stores use formulas to track how well goods are selling and decide when to mark down prices. And statisticians quantify how well our favorite sports teams are doing.
Spotlight math from many angles with the following resources:
Use Learning Math: Measurement to discuss the importance of measurements with elementary and middle school students. How do we rely on accurate measurements of weight, volume, and distance in our daily lives?
Against All Odds: Inside Statistics shows high school students how concepts like probability and inference can be used to understand topics such as weather, the spread of disease, and impacts of pollution in the environment.
For advanced students, Mathematics Illuminated explains uses for more complex concepts, such as infinity, game theory, and networks.
Many science courses on Learner.org also cover topics that are based on math. For example, unit 6 of Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions, “Quantifying Chemical Reactions,” explains why summarizing chemical reactions accurately and understanding the ratios in which elements combine are critical to producing chemicals efficiently and avoiding waste.
Unit 6 of The Habitable Planet, “Risk, Exposure and Health,” discusses how scientists quantify risks from exposure to different kinds of hazards in the environment and identify causal relationships between exposure and health impacts.
What are the odds that you can show your students how math shapes their lives?