Solve Real World Problems


Here is an excerpt from the class math textbook. I rarely ever open it. Every time I do, I am reminded why. This is what passes as real world examples of finding perimeter, according to Math Expressions published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The context is my biggest complaint in this post, not really the numbers. However, I think that giving kids the numbers from the beginning, without having to work for them, is a poor approach to teaching math. It is separating the calculating form the measuring, when actually these two things go together. Through the process of measuring we discover about the concept of perimeter, area, etc. Separating these things is simplistic and robs students of the usefulness, and beauty of mathematics. The fact that these problems are under the Solve Real World Problems section of the textbook is quite sad.

One of the major complaints people have about their math education is that it was too abstract, and not connected to real life. That is the complaint I have about my math education too. It is no wonder when you read the problems in the text.

These textbook problems are nothing more than preparation for standardized tests. They are teaching math as a way for you to solve problems, but rather teaching math as a series of problems that you need to solve.

15. Brain was tiling a patio and ran out of tiles.
(Because kids nowadays are often tiling things)

16. Rylee knows that the area for the face-painting station is 166 square feet. She knows that the length of the rectangular area is 12 feet. How wide is the area?
(Does Rylee work at the face painting station? Why does she need to know the area? What will she do with this information? Is that important to mathematics? No application or reason, just calculation?)

17. Coby needs to know the area and perimeter of his farm property. The length is 1/12 of mile and the width is 3/8 of a mile. What is the area?
(There are many reasons why a human being would need to know this information. Perhaps, you could give us one?)

18. The area of the dance floor is 45 square feet, and one side is 8 feet. What is the length of the other side?
(Why do I care?)

19. Margo wants new carpet and a new wallpaper border for her bedroom. The room is 5.4 meters long and 4 and 7/8 meters wide. About how many square yards of carpet will she need? About how many yards of wallpaper border will she need?
(This is not bad, still not something a kid would do, but this is my favorite of all these problems)

20. Tomas has a garden with a length of 2.45 meters and width of 5/8 meters. Use benchmarks to estimate the area and perimeter of the garden.
(Now you're actually restricting me in the methods I can use, and still not telling me why I care about the area of the garden)

21. Laura has a rectangular piece of wood that is 7 inches by 4 inches. She wants to cover it with strips of ribbon that are 1/4 inch wide. What length of ribbon does she need to cover the wood?
(I actually like this one, but not as a math activity. It would be a great writing provocation, why in the world is Laura covering a piece of wood with ribbon? Tell the story. I bet students could come up with some very creative ideas!)

Every time I look at these books, lining the shelf of my class, I think, 'that could have been a couple of iPads, or imagine the amount of picture books I could have bought with that money.'

There is nothing wrong with these problems as exercises in practicing certain skills. But, don't label them Real World Problems when they are not. It confuses students about the process of using mathematics. Call them what they are.



If you could re-write this text book, what types of problems would you include instead? Leave a comment and let me know.


  1. Find the Area and Perimeter of your classroom and write a letter to the Head of School explaining why you think this is an adequate or inadequate amount of space.

    Taking it Further:

    Exclude the furniture to only calculate the open floor space.
    Measure the area that one person takes up when writing a story, reading a book, etc.
    Compare the area and perimeter in your class to other classes in the school, community, country, or world.
    Design your own space for the classroom, maximizing the area to meet your needs. Write a letter to your teacher asking to change the layout.

  2. At least be content knowing that you don't have to sit in meetings hearing that this needs to happen when you already know and do as such. Have you seen this TED?

    Day Meyer knows math, math knows Dan Meyer.

    1. I am familiar with Dan's work! I love trying to change his ideas to fit the lower school. Hard sometimes, but challenging and fun!

  3. Anonymous10.3.16

    What are the awnsers for all of them? i need dem so bad.


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