Connecting Math to the Real World

How do you represent abstract mathematical concepts in the real world? That’s the question posed to Grade 10 math students who are studying quadratics.
As students progress from linear equations into more complex quadratics, they are challenged to represent these equations using something in their world that is meaningful to them. One student chose to examine the path of a volleyball serve. After recording herself serving a ball, she figured out the equation and described the key characteristics of the parabola. Further investigation led to questions about what those characteristics can tell us: how high did the ball go? Where was the highest point in its path? Other students explored the arc of a cartwheel or the path a swimmer took diving into a pool. Sometimes their examples didn’t quite work, enabling a deeper understanding of a quadratic’s characteristics. By representing a concept through an example that is relevant to their interests, students were better able to comprehend, engage with and retain foundational mathematical knowledge.