Math in the News: A High-Interest Approach to Math

Students often ask when will they use the math they’re learning, and teachers often struggle to show real-world applications of the math they’re teaching. Yet a rich source of material for both teacher and student is found every day: current events. The notion of Math in the News is the idea that every relevant story (the weather, sports, space travel, the economy, etc.) can be recast as a math story. Let’s look at an example.

All students go to movies and are accustomed to prices for tickets, food at the concessions, and other costs. They know a successful movie is based on the number of tickets sold and the amount of money it earns. This is a topic that students are already interested in. You’re halfway toward creating a lesson that uses this.

There are a number of Web sites that keep track of data on all movies released in a given year. Begin by asking students if they know how much money was made in 2013 from all movies. Write their guesses on the board. Arrange the numbers from least to greatest. From these guesses you can begin to develop the concepts of range, median, and mean of a set of data.

Next, go to the actual data from the Web site and show where the real number (around $10 billion) fits in with their guesses. Now all of a sudden a data-gathering activity has personal relevance for students.

You can then show them the top 10 movies for the year. Ask how many students watched each of the 10. See if the top movie was watched by more students. Then ask them to guess how much money each movie earned in ticket sales. Have students find the average of their guesses, then compare them to the actual numbers from the Web site.

You don’t have to work with just historical data. At any given time of the year, there is always a group of movies about to be released, and one marquee movie that gets a lot of marketing. Have students predict how well this movie will do in its opening weekend. Then have them gather the actual numbers once the weekend box office numbers are known. Have them compare their predicted values with the actuals. And all of a sudden the math has taken on real meaning for the students.

Current events provide an endless possibility for math-related stories. Identify the topics that interest your students. Have a day of gathering news articles, then have the students find the underlying math story.