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3 Ways to Use Big Ideas Math to Engage Students with Real-Life Applications

  • Matthew Stoddard, M.Ed.

Students of all ages learn more effectively when they visualize math and connect it to the real world. Here are some suggestions for how to use Big Ideas Math to help make that happen in your class. 

I was thrilled when cell phone companies stopped charging per minute. Not because my bill was going to be cheaper, but because I could finally stop using the dreaded cellphone plan word problems with my algebra students. I presented those problems and lessons with a smile for many years, all the while knowing that it was a completely unrealistic scenario.  


One of the most beautiful things about math is that it describes our world but finding ways to show that to students can be challenging. To help you meet that challenge, here are three ways that Big Ideas Math helps students connect the math they learn in the classroom to the real world. 


STEAM Videos & Performance Tasks 


For students in grades 612, each Big Ideas Math chapter has a STEAM video and connected Performance TaskThe video helps students develop a conceptual understanding of the chapter’s topic, and the Performance Tasks allow students to apply that knowledge after learning and practicing the underlying math.  


The Performance Tasks are really mini projects. When I taught Big Ideas Math in the classroom, these quickly became something that my students looked forward to. Our class discussions rarely stayed focused on just the topic of the Performance Task because the students were able to see other real-world situations where the mathematical concepts being studied could be applied. These conversations were rich, engaging, and incredibly productive. 


Math Musicals 


See if you can complete this sentence: “Conjunction junction, what’s _____?” If you know the answer, you can thank the power of music for helping students learn, especially when they’re young. Big Ideas Math features Math Musicals for grades K–5. Not only are these musicals catchy and visually stimulating, but they are full of math! These videos help young students learn conceptual understanding, but more importantly they begin to see how math is connected to everything around them. 


Interactive Tools

Helping students model the world through math requires resources. With interactive digital resources such as algebra tiles, fraction models, and probability tools, Big Ideas Math helps students interact with and visualize the mathematical concepts they are learning. The tools are adaptable, allowing both teachers and students to use them to extend what they are learning or even refresh themselves on a previously covered topic that maybe didn’t stick as well as it should have. 


Think about a concert, play, or some other live event that you have seen. What made it memorable to you? Odds are that it wasn’t just the music or dialogue, but the visual experience as well. When trying to help students understand mathematical concepts, they need to see the math in action if those concepts are going to be truly memorable to them. With the tools mentioned above, your students will begin to see the world (and the math that lies underneath) in a new way


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