You know at some point in the school year the question is going to come. It always does and at a very inopportune time. "When am I ever going to need this in my life" or "What's the point of this?" or "Why do I need to know this?" This happens to me every year and so I prefer to answer this question up front so that I have the upper hand. This is why within the first couple days of school I usually have a real-life math conversation with my students in conjunction with a lesson from this site.
Here's where I might lose some people but please hear me out. I begin by telling my students that I am not going to stand up in front of the class this year and pretend that everything we do in class they will use repeatedly in life. I tell them that there are some things that we will go over that I use all the time outside of the classroom like percents and even ratios, but that I have never written and solved a 2-step equation or used the pythagorean theorem. That's not to say that there are not specific use cases in certain jobs where these skills might come up more - but let's be honest many jobs will not.
This is a scary thing to say to students for a lot of teachers. I think teachers think there will be some sort of Pink Floyd uprising, but I have never had an issue. Some students appreciate the truth. I think we are kidding ourselves if we expect our students to think that they are going to repeatedly use graphing inequalities on a number line later in life. If we instead teach them how we can use inequalities to better explain and understand something in our life, create better connections, and hopefully develop a greater appreciation for math.
I then go on to tell them the purpose of math and why I like it: math helps us explain and understand the world around us. I talk about how I am a curious person and I want to foster curiosity in my classroom. I tell them that if they want to compare two sports figures math will be used, if you want to explain why a jar of peanut butter is round, the ratio of boys to girls in this school, or how many cars we can expect to drive down your street today - we need math (create your own examples).
Next, I transition to the lesson that we will do to showcase this point. In years past I have used the "LeBron's 2010 Decision lesson for the first day of school and then have done "Fractions with a Basketball Superstar" to further cement the point the next day. This year I just created the lesson "Describing the Speed of a Car" and I think I am going to try that one followed by the basketball superstar lesson the next day.
The Speed of a Car lesson is perfect for this moment. If you have not yet read and downloaded it then I highly suggest you do. It is extremely customizable and I left it very open ended. Having students try to compare with words how fast a car is going should hopefully prove the importance of math for helping us describe the world around us. I'm sure many students will not be able to go much farther than "that car was fast and the next car was really fast. When you describe how fast a car is you inevitably hear someone make a mathematical statement such as the car was going 70 miles per hour or it finished a quarter mile in only 10 seconds or it went from 0 to 60 in 3.4 seconds etc. These are all descriptions that help us understand how fast a car is going while using math that we often do not think about. And this lesson will push students towards this understanding.
Continuing to use the lessons here at MakeMathMore.com will allow you to show the true purpose of math time and time again throughout the year.