Written by Alyssa Walker

If you have ever watched a soap bubble float from the sink, studied a flower’s petals, ridden a bicycle, or done any myriad of everyday things, then you’ve interacted with mathematics.

When we use smartphones and other electronic devices, not only are we interacting with a product that required mathematical skill to build and design, math also drives those interactions. Math is inherent in our lives, but we don’t always recognize its relevance or application, and that has a lot to do with how and when we learned to use mathematics. For most of us, that was primary and secondary school, where we memorized rote multiplication tables, or tried to grasp the complexities of trigonometry. But math is more than formulas and numbers.  

Even the most vocal arithmophobe uses math on a regular basis and understanding how -- and why -- we learn mathematics can convert even the most innumerate individual to the subject.

Here are seven ways mathematics is part of your daily existence.

1. Fractions

Ever hit your snooze button and calculate the number of remaining precious minutes you have to sleep? How about stepping on a scale? You are using math -- and fractions for that matter. Even if you think you don’t understand fractions, you probably use them regularly. You break your hours into quarters, divide sums of money between accounts, and share out six cookies between three children.

Cooking is a great area in which to practice your fractions. Recipes call for drops, teaspoons, tablespoons, and cups -- and fractions do apply! Then there are conversions. When a recipe calls for ¾ of a cup of flour and all you have is a ¼ cup measuring cup, what do you do? Or you have a recipe that makes 24 cookies, but you need enough for 36 colleagues? If you already know what to do in these situations, try upping your math-game and converting from Fahrenheit to Celcius, or from liters to cups.  

2. Area and Dimensions

Before you buy your new couch, it is best to measure the space you have available before spending all that money, right?

The same goes for paint. If you understand how to find the area of that wall you want to paint and you know the number of coats you would like to apply, you can figure out how much paint to buy without too much left over or not enough.

How about those coat hooks you would like to install by the front door? How many do you need, how many can fit, and how far apart do you need to space them? It helps to have the same basic measurement skills for home decorating projects.

If you understand how to measure dimensions and determine area, you’re a step ahead of the game. Even better if you can convert your measurements between the system of feet and inches to the metric system of meters and centimeters.

3. Ratios

If you think that ratios are confusing, you might be surprised to learn that you hear them on a regular basis. Math and music may not seem related but they are inextricably linked. Musical notes and the pitches that make up the sounds we hear are dictated by mathematical ratios and formulas. Scales and chords -- the most basic elements of music -- are simply intervals dictated by the ratio between frequencies. Even the words to the songs you sing are mathematical in nature. Poetry and song lyrics rely on meter and rhythm, both of which are based on mathematical theories.

You can learn more by diving into some of the mathematical theories surrounding composers like Bach or writers like Shakespeare.  Or watch this video.

4. Distance and Formulas

Traveling requires math at nearly every level -- on foot, by bicycle, car, or airplane. When going for an extended walk, it helps to know about how long it takes you to travel a mile or kilometer so that you can calculate the time it will take you.

By vehicle, travelers often consider miles per gallon and the cost of gasoline. Although bicycle travel does not require gasoline, it’s helpful to have a sense of how far your output will get you. Air travelers need to figure out departure times, arrival schedules, the weight and dimensions of their luggage, and the amount of time they need to give themselves -- including traffic -- to get to the airport.

Prefer the train? You still need math. You need to understand how timetables work, and how to calculate whether the cost of the ticket is worth the distance.

5. Calculations

The daily application of mathematics is most obvious in one area: money. Making it, keeping track of it, spending it, investing it, and saving it for a rainy day. Money needs mathematics.

If you know how to balance your budget -- or at least your checkbook -- you are less likely to go into debt and less likely to spend money that you don’t have.

Planning to buy a house, a car, or make another big purchase at some point in your life? Mortgages, car loans, and other loans all have interest rates, payback plans, and rely on complicated points systems. If you want your money to stretch as far as it can, it's best to have a working knowledge of more than just your checkbook. Learn how interest accrues, how you pay it back, and how it functions over time.

If you are into learning how your money makes money, it’s worth talking to someone who understands how stocks and investments work, too. If you know enough, you can do well -- if you go into finances blindly, you could lose a lot!

6. Problem-solving

Every day, you are surrounded by problems big and small. What helps you solve them? Logic and reasoning. The ability to analyze the problem, come up with a list of possible solutions, prioritize your best possibilities, and implement as best you can.

Mathematics helps you hone your logic and reasoning skills. At early stages, problems in mathematics are identified for you and it’s up to you to figure out the solution. As you get better at math, not only do you get better at solving problems, but you get better at identifying them, too.

Problem-solving at this level is a life skill. One of the biggest keys to your success in life is the ability to identify problems -- and then figure out which ones are worth solving.

7. Statistics

Statistics are all about calculations. When you choose to do or not do something, your brain makes thousands of calculations based on your history of doing or not doing that thing and tells you which choice to make. Sometimes, your brain makes mistakes, or you interpret your subconscious statistical analysis incorrectly. Other times, your decisions are spot-on. The bottom line? Your brain subconsciously does math.

Without this function, we wouldn’t be able to make the decisions we do.

When we are consciously aware of our decision-making, we can parse these statistics out. Trying to determine which courses to take this semester? Help yourself by listing your choices doing your statistical analysis consciously.

Mathematics surrounds us, from our daily choices to our everyday problems. For those who find mathematics intimidating, there’s hope. Recognize that it’s all around you and move toward embracing as much of it as you can. Your brain -- and body -- will thank you!

ArticleEducationStudent Tips
Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.
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