Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Review: Make It Real Learning

We all remember those story problems about two trains traveling certain speeds at a given distance in opposite directions or asking the percentage of blue-eyed boys in a given classroom, as if this would be must-know information later in life. Problems like these didn’t exactly make you jump up and down with enthusiasm to learn the math concepts, did they? The relevance of learning how to solve such problems is lost on most students and instead leaves them asking, “When am I ever going to use this?”

Students want to know *why* they are learning certain material and how it might be relevant to them either in the present or near future. When my son first started learning fractions, I usually used two units in my explanations to bring it home better: snack food and money. However, as important as cookies and dollars are for a ten-year-old boy, they can only take you so far. Now that he’s headed toward high school, he really needs to see how what he’s learning today applies to his future. I often wish the story problems in the textbooks did a better job making the story problems relevant - that they would make them real.

Make It Real Learning (MIRL) has tackled the “Why do we need to know this?” chant from math students and developed a workbook series of activities showing how math is needed in our every day lives.

I was sent the digital format of Activity Library Volume II, targeted to grade level 3 through college, to review. There are eleven workbooks in Volume II with the following topics/titles:
• Arithmetic II
• Fractions, Percents, Decimals III
• Fractions, Percents, Decimals IV
• Geometry I
• Geometry II
• Graphing & Other Algebra Skills I
• Graphing & Other Algebra Skills II
• Linear Functions III
• Periodic & Piecewise II
• Sets, Probability, Statistics II
Each workbook includes ten activities, which are mapped to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. Each activity is about two pages long and comprised of multiple questions based on a real-life scenario. The activities are ideal for 1-2 class periods of a traditional classroom.  They can be done in groups or completed by as single student and are well suited for homeschooled students.

All of the activity topics are high interest and should appeal to a broad range of students.  The topics range from candy purchases to college tuition and beyond.  Students will learn how math relates to music downloads, interest and savings, construction planning, travel expenses, sports, cooking, healthcare costs, gas prices, take home pay and even current events and concerns such as elections and autism awareness.

The scenarios presented in the activities are drawn from real situations, real data, and even include links to actual websites and studies.  For example, an activity about purchasing candy and calculating shipping costs from an online website includes a link to the website, the actual costs of the candy, and a copy of the shipping fee table.

Make It Real Learning’s Activity Volume II does not contain actual lessons, detailed explanations, nor is it a complete curriculum. However, each activity is immediately followed by an answer key showing the steps in the solution, making it easy for the supervising parent or teacher. I appreciated not having to open a different file for the solutions and having the solutions readily available.

To get a feel for the format and structure of the activities, there are 20 free sample real-world math activities available from Volume I and II.

While there are some activities suitable for late elementary, I felt the majority of the activities were better suited for late middle school through high school grade levels. With an 8th grader and a 10th grader in my household, the level of the activities is about perfect for our family to use now and have plenty of material available for later.

I always try to make math real for our kids as we live life, while we do home projects, bake and shop, or pay bills. However, I can’t always seamlessly align our experiences with what my kids happen to be learning in their math curriculum. With these activities targeting specific concepts, I think we’ll get plenty of use of this quick resource the next time my kids sigh and whine, “Why do I need to know this?” I’m looking forward to continuing to use this resource.

Activity Library Volume II is available at the Make It Real Learning’s website as a digital download for \$39.99 or as a Volume I and II bundle at a discounted price of \$69.99 for the pair. If you prefer a hard copy, a print version is available at Lulu for \$54.99.