Heidi, HS, Math

Engaging Students in Real World Math

Interview with Heidi Rudolph

In this interview Heidi describes how she uses real world problems to engage her students in math. 

School: Orange High School, Pepper Pike, OH

Grades: 9-10     Classroom Size: 14

Subject: Math

Classroom Challenges:

  • At-risk Youth
  • Differentiated Instruction
  • Small Group Activities
  • Special Needs/Inclusion

Click on a topic below to read more about Heidi's work:

Please describe your classroom challenges.

"I co-teach Algebra Topics. [My students are] at-risk [and their] curriculum is designed to support preparation for the Ohio Graduation Test the following year. [There are a] high percentage of IEPs, with special needs such as Asperger syndrome. My class size is 14 students, 13 freshmen and 1 sophomore repeating Algebra for the third time."

Please describe your experience with Real World Math and how you used it in your classroom.

"[Real World Math] is best suited to my Algebra Topics course, taught at the ninth grade level. Many of the concepts support Ohio Graduation Test learning goals, as well as Core Content Standards. We cover Numbers and Number Sense, Patterns, Functions and Algebra, and Data Analysis and Probability strands. I have used bits and pieces of several lessons/units in order to enhance my normal curriculum. I am confident that the materials will align nicely with math standards for the grade level I am teaching. I like to take an activity and re-design it a little to fit my classroom style, technology use, and to further engage the students with the topic. Environmental concerns should be a topic of discussion in the classroom as well as at home. Students seemed to take an interest in what we did with the data, and we also used some visual representations to look at maps and what regions of the world had low life expectancies, and why. I encouraged discussion to see the level of student awareness of these global issues. This included what they knew about health care, political situations, etc. around the world."

Heidi uses the following Facing the Future resources:

What standards were used or met when using Real World Math?
  • "Common Core 7.RP.3
    Use proportional relationships to solve multistep ratio and percent problems (e.g., simple interest, percent increase and decrease, percent error)

  • Common Core 6.RP.3
    Use ratio and rate reasoning to solve real-world and mathematical problems

  • Common Core S-ID.1
    Represent data with plots on the real number line (e.g., dot plots, histograms, and box plots)"

To see how Real World Math aligns with your state standards, please visit Real World Math Educational Standards.

A lot of teachers struggle to find room in their curriculum for supplemental materials, like Facing the Future materials. How did you do this?

"The data was a nice fit since it allowed me to work with current information at the same time as working on percent increase and decrease computation. It further allowed us to discuss global issues and to incorporate data analysis so that it is not learned in isolation. I attempted to cross the curriculum and work with a social studies teacher with this unit/lesson, but our conflicting schedules would not allow it. I think there are great opportunities for discussion about politics, history, health care, economics, etc."

What were your main objectives/goals for this course?

"Since this unit/lesson was taught at the beginning of the year, it served as a nice activity with multiple goals:

  • to calculate percent decrease or increase,
  • to help students discuss a variety of factors that would contribute to changes in life expectancy over time,
  • to expose students to worldwide challenges like percent of population with HIV/AIDs,
  • and to expose students to differences in health care expenditures, etc. 

Some students had never heard of many of the countries discussed, and were able to see them on world and continent maps. Trends and patterns were illuminated. Students also had the opportunity to work with the class set of TI-nspire calculators, into which I had imported more than just the small sample of data provided by [Lesson 5 - Data & Graphs: Youth Conflict]. I imported all countries in the world and their life expectancies in both 1960 and 2000."

To see an example of the TI-nspire extension, please see the Real World Math Datasets.

How were these goals met?

"By allowing this activity to “wrap around” beyond one class period, and by encouraging student discussion and sharing of ideas, I feel that we promoted future-thinking by our students. By promoting a sense of world and community, younger students can start to think about themselves as global citizens who might be able to contribute to improving conditions of health and well-being in other countries around the world. With the use of technology as well as hands-on contact with maps, stickers, highlighters, I believe that the lesson will have more of a lasting effect than just a paper and pencil exercise about percent increase and decrease."

What skills did your students gain from Real World Math lessons and readings?

"I believe that our whole activity/lesson was collaborative in that it started with students sorting out the countries and life expectancies like a number line or dot plot, and continued to students putting red (for low) and green (for high) life expectancies on regional maps of the various continents. Literally seeing the trends in poor quality of life should have been powerful for the students. Discussion and a focus on communication in the math class may be a new side effect of teaching about global issues with the Facing the Future materials, but it is also an area of weakness for many students in how they think of math problems. Just finding the percentages is not enough, we need to be able to use the percentages to make statements about the various countries and the trends we see among the differing conditions of economics, politics, health, etc."

What parts of the unit engaged your students the most?

"Perhaps the non-math parts of our discussion led to some interest in the history/politics and even current events surrounding some of the countries whose names are constantly in the news. Locating countries on a map is interesting to students when they have never heard of a country before."

Did you make adjustments to Real World Math for your classroom type? If so, what adjustments did you make, and how did these work?

"I added the maps with the colored stickers to provide a visual aid, and a tactile component. The number sort with the countries and their reported life expectancies was also key in gaining involvement from all students. I added the additional data to the provided data set after completing the first lesson with the fewer countries, thus giving more impact to the results the second day- our data/statistics now included so many more countries that the results must be even more powerful and believable!"

Do these materials and teaching global sustainability help you be a better teacher?

"I think so - they spark my interest in finding real life examples of things that should matter to my students as people and global citizens. They provide me with a springboard, and often links to finding out additional information from its sources."

Does using these materials help you reach your professional goals or help you grow as an educator?

"Most definitely. Since I am late in my career it always helps to keep things fresh and change my lessons with more current topics and data! I sure hope the kids appreciate it!"

What advice, if any, would you give to teachers using these Facing the Future lessons for the first time?

"Use the little bits and pieces along with your other material, and see where it fits in best. Then try to enhance based on your students’ interests, abilities, etc."

Anything else you’d you like to share with other teachers who are looking to engage their students in global issues and sustainability?

"Go for it! Also, find local information for comparison purposes. Such as your school’s data compared to national or global data."

Do you plan to teach the unit/lesson again? What would you do differently next time?

"Yes, definitely add a project component to reinforce the data analysis, and possibly the political aspects, health, and other social issues that are related. Way more than just math!"


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We equip and motivate students to develop critical thinking skills, build global awareness, and engage in positive solutions for a sustainable future through hands-on curricula and professional learning.

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