When Are We Ever Gonna Use This?

How many times have math teachers heard that question? I question the assumption underlying it – that math should only be learned if it has “real-life” application. I wonder if my colleagues who teach literature have to deal with that! Of course, math is worth studying in and of itself, just as poetry is.

That said, I do try to make connections between abstract mathematical concepts and things my students encounter in their lives. So, as my precalculus students wrapped up their investigations into parabolas, ellipses, and hyperbolas, we looked at some examples of how they occur in the real world. We took photos of the water coming out of a drinking fountain, the fireplace of our school’s library, and a flashlight’s beam when it is next to a wall. Then, we pasted the photos into Geometer’s Sketchpad, placed a grid over them, and came up with functions that model each conic section. They got very excited as they saw their function plots match the photos so closely. Hmm, maybe there is something to these crazy conics after all….

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3 thoughts on “When Are We Ever Gonna Use This?

  1. This looks great! Do you have any resources (assignment directions) for this activity? I’d love to steal it and use it as a project at the end of the unit. Please drop me a line if you still have the directions. Thanks!

    -Hunter
    hunter.chen at bvsd dot org

  2. This was a fun project for my students! They really enjoyed the scavenger hunt and also using Desmos math. Thanks for the idea and inspiration!

    • natalyastclair, thanks for the feedback. I love using Desmos, and it has replaced a lot of things I did with Sketchpad. I’m glad your students enjoyed the scavenger hunt – are you going to post their finds anywhere?

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