Bringing Real-World Math Examples to the Classroom

May 19, 2021
By: Nichole Semprit


As a former middle school math teacher, I love finding ways to bring real-world examples into the classroom. Of course, with any lesson planning, there are challenges like time constraints, technology availability, and student abilities. Expect the Unexpected with Math, a middle school math program, helps to address these challenges … and then some.

In partnership with Scholastic, The Actuarial Foundation’s Expect the Unexpected with Math program provides free resources to teachers in the form of modules. Each interactive module takes roughly 15 to 20 minutes to complete and starts off with a pre-quiz. The lesson includes a real-life scenario with a purpose for the skill being taught. Students have an opportunity to interactively practice the lesson. The end of the module includes a post-quiz, which can be saved and sent to the teacher.

What I love most about these lessons is that the pre- and post-quiz ask an unscored question about confidence. Research shows how important confidence is in predicting if a student will continue wanting to learn math. Teachers know how hard it can be to make math feel like something attainable to students.

The Expect the Unexpected with Math modules are self-guided, so teachers have the ability to assist lower-level students while higher-level students can work through the modules themselves. With 13 modules available, students can begin a new module if they finish earlier than other classmates. This helps to alleviate at least some pressure and time constraints for teachers who often have hectic school and teaching schedules.

What about limited access to computers in school? Well, in addition to the interactive modules, there are downloadable lesson plans that teachers can print. These are designed to be ready to use, but teachers of course can differentiate them any way they like.

One of the more recent additions to the Scholastic lineup is a middle school math contest called The Hardest Math Problem, which students are encouraged to enter by their teachers. The contest is an annual competition presented by Scholastic, The Actuarial Foundation, and the New York Life Foundation that challenges students in grades 6–8 to solve multistep, grade-appropriate math problems with real-world situations and engaging characters. Plus, 5th graders are eligible to participate by reaching to a higher grade level! We just concluded this year’s Hardest Math Problem Student Contest, and winners were selected!

Working for The Actuarial Foundation has allowed me to share my passion about math and education with teachers and students. I love being able to help create materials that support teachers and students—it’s rewarding to see students growing and moving to the next grade level. I encourage all middle school math teachers to try this program and contest, even if just as a pilot for one year.

Learn more about Expect the Unexpected with Math and The Hardest Math Problem Student Contest.

Categories: Educators, Volunteering