Grade Three Students Apply Math Lessons to Real World Situations

By Mrs. Danielle Kardisco

As a student, math was my least favorite subject.  It was abstract, difficult, and somewhat meaningless to me.  I didn’t understand why I needed to know how to find the area of an irregular shape or understand how to compare fractions.  I found myself feeling more frustrated than anything.

Fast forward a few decades, and I am on the other side of the equation (pun intended).  As a teacher, I have made it a goal to engage students in math practices that are meaningful.  Yes, we must memorize multiplication facts and learn formulas to find perimeter.  However, math is so much more than that.

Integrating real-life situations into learning raises the stakes for students and increases engagement.  For example, prior to Thanksgiving, students were given the task to plan a Thanksgiving meal for 12 people with a certain budget.  This task engaged students in using addition, subtraction, and multiplication.  It required students to calculate money and practice adding with decimals.  It also stretched their logical reasoning skills to make decisions on what products were necessary for their Thanksgiving dinner. When adding money with decimals a few weeks ago, a student said, “Oh yeah!  Like when we shopped for Thanksgiving dinner.”  This project is a mile marker that helps create a reference point for their learning.

Another way math is brought to life in third grade is through art.  When students were learning about grouping in multiplication around Halloween, they made Multiplication Monsters, which required them to group body parts.  In December, students made array buildings and created multiplication word problems for each array.  As a class, we discussed where in the world we see other arrays, such as elevator buttons, keyboards, and checkerboards.

In January, students were learning how to calculate perimeter and area.  We talked about where people use the formulas in real life, such as architects, construction workers, and parents painting or laying floors in their homes.  Students used pixels to create different pieces of art.  They needed to calculate the area each part of their picture.

Area Artists

Most recently, students planned a Valentine’s Party using a budget.  They used similar skills as the Thanksgiving dinner exercise .  It was neat to hear them refer back to their experience in November as they crunched numbers and determined what would fit into their budgets.  These types of projects also encourage cooperative learning, as they must work with a partner.  Again, teaching skills that are meaningful in life outside of the classroom, such as compromise, communication, and teamwork.  


It is amazing how each project creates a memory for students to hook onto when using the math they have learned in the classroom. Ways to make math meaningful are all around us.  Imagine if this type of learning went beyond the school building.  Seeing how math is in everyday life can make learning math exciting and accessible.  

Check out a few of these websites for ideas for how to make math come to life in your home: