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March 18, 2015 / Thinknology

How Teaching Math in Context Benefits Adult Students: 4 Things to Consider

Which answer is correct?

38 ÷ 4 =

A. 9 R2

B. 9.50

C. 9 1/2

D. 10

If you said A, B, and C, you are correct, since this is a straight computation. But suppose we added a context to this calculation such as:

Mary and three coworkers went out to lunch and decided to split the bill evenly. How much does each person owe? Now that we have a context the best answer is $9.50.

Think about this problem:

Jorge, in human resources, is arranging transportation for 38 employees to the company picnic. He is setting up carpools with no more than four employees in each car. How many cars does he need?

The computation is the same but the context changed. The correct answer is 10; he will need 10 cars to get everyone to the picnic.

Let’s change the context one more time.

Ellen is putting molding around her bedroom. Each piece of molding is 4 feet long. If she needs 38 feet of molding, how many pieces does she need? Since the context is linear measurement, the correct answer is 9.

Often, the biggest problem adult students have with math is reading. As you can see in these examples, a simple computation becomes more difficult when put into the form of a word problem. However, teaching math in context can benefit your adult student because it is presented in a meaningful and relevant setting that will motivate and engage. In addition, familiarity with certain situations will enable the student to tap into life experience and prior knowledge.

Here are 4 things to think about as you create or purchase instructional materials for your math curriculum.

  1. Are new math concepts presented in real-life situations and experiences that are familiar to the student?
  2. Are new concepts presented in the context of what the student already knows?
  3. Does the instruction include problem-solving situations that students can recognize as being important to their current lives?
  4. Does the instruction foster an attitude that says, “I need to learn this”?

Contextual learning has many benefits for your adult students. Please share your experience, ideas, and thoughts on contextual learning in the comments below.


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