Math Wheels for Note-taking?

Real World Math Activities for Your Back to School Lesson Plans


As the start of a new year approaches, we have a million thoughts in our heads! Thoughts from setting up our classrooms to brainstorming how to shake things up and bring excitement to our math lessons. We know that math can sometimes feel like a disconnect to our students. And one of the most common questions is, “Why do I need to know this?” followed closely by, “When will I ever use this?” Let’s start the year showing our new students just how much they need math in day to day life. Today I’m sharing a variety of fun and engaging real world math activities that are perfect for your back to school lesson plans.

Providing an Authentic Learning Experience with Real World Math Activities

Have you ever been taught something without knowing the why behind it? You were expected to listen and demonstrate your understanding, right? On a scale of “I wanted to cry my eyes out” to “Wow, that was the most impactful learning experience of my life”, where did it fall? Probably closer to the tears of sadness, boredom, or despair!

When I became a teacher, I promised that I’d explain the why behind what we as a class were learning. Wondering why is a natural inclination and can lead to memorable discoveries. My favorite teaching moments are when my lesson can turn on a dime based on a question. You see their classmates start perking up and adding to the conversation. They take away more from those moments than a textbook page.

As math teachers, we recognize the importance of taking math concepts from the textbook and placing them into our everyday lives. Imagine your students budgeting like pros at the grocery store or becoming time-traveling experts by exploring time zones. Who said math was boring? With these real world math activities, we’re not just crunching numbers but growing curiosity and excitement for math. Math is so much more than just writing problems on paper. Our students will soon see the why behind math with these engaging activities.

1. Grocery Store Math Olympics

Many of our students have shopped in a grocery store or will one day have to navigate one. So, it’s important for them to develop skills like budgeting and planning to ensure they have enough money for all their items.

Give your students a budget and a shopping list. Set up items around the room, such as fun erasers, stickers, pencils, and homework passes (you do not need to break the bank!). Each student will shop accordingly but will have to stay within their budget. Depending on your class, you can throw in sales and taxes to make the experience more challenging and authentic.

Use real world math activities like this grocery store math olympics game to help your students understand budgeting and planning which will come in handy in their adult lives.

If you don’t want to have them shop for actual items, then grab the grocery store flyers from your junk mail pile or the newspaper. If you are a 1:1 classroom allow them to shop online at a specified store. Give students a challenge to plan a dinner party for 12 people. Then give them a budget. Let them choose the type of meal that will be served. The only requirement is that they must purchase all the supplies and food needed.

They must keep track of what they have picked up to buy. Every penny counts! With the challenge at hand, they’ll make those choices and trade-offs like seasoned decision-makers.

By the end of the experience, they’ll have a new appreciation for the value of a dollar – and that’s priceless!

2. Time Travelers Unite in Real-World Math Activities

Get ready for a mind-bending journey through time! Okay, so we won’t be hopping into a time machine, but we’re about to explore time zone conversions. We’re taking our students on virtual trips to different countries, where they’ll become time zone travelers.

Picture the excitement on their faces as they unravel the mysteries of time differences. While it’s bedtime in the bustling streets of New York, kids in Japan are already munching on breakfast! It’s like being in two places at once – an experience that will blow their minds and help them become aware of our planet’s vastness.

As your students navigate different time zones, they’ll understand that while they’re asleep, people in far-off lands are wide awake, living their lives in a completely different time frame.

To help this concept apply to them personally, send them on a vacation to a far off land. Then give them different scenarios to answer. For example, you might ask: “You are in Australia. It’s 3:30 p.m. and you’ve just seen the most incredible kangaroo. Is it an appropriate time to call home and tell your family about it?”

Through this activity, their math skills will sharpen. They’ll calculate time differences, converting hours and sometimes even days! With every conversion, they’ll gain confidence in working with time and become pros at handling clock-related conundrums.

This eye-opening realization will connect them with the people and cultures of other countries. Hopefully, instilling in them a deep respect for our interconnected world.

3. Math Chef Extravaganza

Whoever said math and cooking don’t mix is in for a surprise with our math chef extravaganza! Brace yourselves for a culinary math adventure that will have your taste buds and brains dancing joyfully. With a few no-bake recipes you can create a culinary math lab where precision is the name of the game and fractions are served on a delectable platter.

As your students don their aprons and get ready to whip up some tasty treats, they’ll do more than cook. They’ll become culinary mathematicians, mastering fractions, decimals, and ratios like seasoned chefs. Measuring ingredients with accuracy becomes a mathematical dance, and calculating proportions becomes a piece of cake. Don’t forget the need to double, triple, or quadruple the recipe so they can share their final creation with their friends.

Just imagine the delight and satisfaction on their faces as their culinary creations come to life! A pinch of fractions here, a dash of ratios there, and voila – a delicious dish is born! As they take that first bite, you’ll hear them whisper in astonishment, “I never knew math could taste this good!”

It’s not just about the delicious treats but also the deeper connection they’ll form with math. They’ll see that math isn’t confined to textbooks. It’s essential in every aspect of life – even in the kitchen. They’ll understand that math is not just about solving equations but about solving real-life challenges with precision and flair.

Students will learn valuable life skills through this real-world math activity as they work together in the kitchen. They’ll develop patience, teamwork, and an appreciation for cooking. They’ll understand that a pinch of too much or little can make the difference – a valuable lesson in math and life.

4. Artistic Symmetry Showdown

Imagine a room filled with eager students armed with pencils, rulers, and their imaginations. Hand them an assortment of shapes – circles, squares, triangles, and more – and watch as their creativity runs wild. The challenge? Create mesmerizing symmetrical designs that showcase their artistic flair.

As they dive into their creations, they won’t just unleash their artistic talents but also secretly practice geometry.

Symmetry is the name of the game, and they’ll find themselves immersed in a world of lines, angles, and reflection. They’ll experiment with different patterns and arrangements, fine-tuning their designs.

They’ll discover that symmetry is not just an aesthetic principle but an essential aspect of geometry. Every line they draw, and every shape they create, is a chance to explore the concept of symmetry.

The best part? The sense of accomplishment they’ll feel when they step back and admire their symmetrical masterpieces. They’ll see that math and art aren’t distant cousins but instead inseparable companions.

5. Data Detectives on Duty

It’s time to unleash the data detectives in your class! Get ready for some data exploration fun! We’re going to dive deep into data analysis. But first, let students come up with their own data collection questions. You will have instant engagement as students decide what they will gather data on and ask their classmates.

Once they’ve gathered all that juicy data, it’s time to turn it into some eye-catching visuals. Say hello to colorful graphs and tasty pie charts.

But the real fun starts when it is time to analyze the data. They get to be like Sherlock Holmes as they dive deep into the data pool. Spotting trends, finding outliers, and connecting the dots – it’s all in a day’s work for our data detectives. They’ll be drawing conclusions and solving mysteries like pros.

By the end of this adventure, they’ll see how math isn’t just about crunching numbers but about understanding the world.

6. Budget-Friendly Travel Planners Math Activity

It’s time to let your travel dreams take flight – on a budget! Imagine planning your ultimate dream vacation without breaking the bank. You heard that right – you get to call the shots and create the adventure of a lifetime.

Get your students excited bout planning a trip on a budget by adding travel planning to your real world math activities.

Grab laptops, notebooks, and maybe even a big ol’ world map for inspiration. Your students will embark on a journey of budget-friendly travel planning that will leave them feeling like travel gurus. First stop – research mode! They’ll dive into the world of travel costs, accommodations, and all the awesome activities their dream destination offers.

It’s not just about picking fancy locations; it’s about managing those expenses. Giving your students a budget for this dream vacation is key. Your kiddos must make smart choices and prioritize what’s essential for their dream vacation.

Your students will gain essential financial literacy skills that’ll serve them well in all aspects of life. Managing money, making informed decisions, and staying within their budget – it’s all part of the adventure!

7. Career Calculations

It’s never too early for a career exploration adventure. We’re going to dive headfirst into the world of jobs, salaries, and some serious math magic.

Use future careers to help your students learn how to understand monthly budgets with this fun math activity. This is just one of many real world math activities that will help students see the importance of what they are learning.

Introduce your students to a smorgasbord of careers – from rocket scientists to rock stars, doctors to designers, and everything in between. Think of it like having a career fair right in your classroom!

Challenge your students to calculate monthly budgets based on the salaries of their dream careers. Include a list of items needed in that budget. I would suggest housing, utilities, a car, gas, groceries, and entertainment. This helps them see just how far their target salary will go. Dreams of mansion living and sports cars just might not be a reality once the numbers are crunched.

While crunching numbers, they’re also gaining valuable insights into financial planning and budgeting. Who would’ve thought that math could be the key to unlocking doors to those dream careers? It’s not just about solving equations; it’s about opening the gateway to exciting possibilities.

And. . . if you want to continue the connection between math and careers, consider exploring a new career each month in your classroom. It’s a great way to expose students to jobs they may not know of, but also to connect math to jobs they want. Do they know just how much math is involved in designing video games?

8. Real-World Math Activities in Your Daily Work

Like many, I love a good classroom transformation or a guest speaker from a career field. Even though I love to dream, I also know what daily life is like teaching. You can incorporate real-world math into the lessons you use now! For example, our students’ favorite thing in the entire universe – word problems! {Cue the moans and groans!}

Use real world math activities in your daily work for a fun way to get your students to practice math in their daily lives.

Word problems are actually the perfect way to connect real life to math concepts. To make them more enticing, consider adding a few sentences or a short paragraph at the beginning to set the stage for the “story”.

Word problems bring real-life adventures right into our math class. You get to tackle everyday situations with numbers and logic. It’s all about critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Word problems make math super relevant and engaging. Plus, they let us see how math connects with other subjects and is a valuable tool in the real world.

Need some already written real world resources? I’ve got you covered.

Students encounter real-world situations in my Comparing and Ordering Fractions Word Problems resource. Through a variety of real world situations, students will be applying their knowledge of fractions to everyday situations.

Reviewing for a test, or need a center? In my Absolute Value Footloose Math Task Cards, students identify, compare, and apply absolute value in real-world situations.

Including Real-World Math Activities Steps Up Your Math Game

At the beginning of the school year, hold off on jumping into the textbook. Instead, plan a week of “this is what we are going to learn this year” real world activities. Your students will love the engaging activities and it will lay a foundation for why their future lessons are important. Plus, when you complete these activities together it gives you a common experience to refer back to.

Brace yourselves for a thrilling ride filled with practical and exciting real-world math activities that will light up your students’ eyes with wonder. We’re about to turn math into a captivating journey of discovery.

They’ll see math come alive in ways they’ve never experienced before. From budgeting at the grocery store to time zone travels across the globe, they’ll be learning math while having a blast! Watch your students become grocery-shopping budgeteers and math chefs whipping up delicious treats.

These activities foster a love for math that goes beyond the classroom. Your students will carry the excitement of learning math into their everyday lives, seeing the world through a new mathematical lens.

And. . . just in case there is no way to incorporate these in your back to school lesson plans – don’t set them aside. All of these real world math activities make great engagement activities for the beginning of a unit or wrap-up activities for the end.

More Engaging Math Activities

If you are looking for more math activities to increase engagement, then look no further.

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Remember to pin this post to your favorite math or teacher Pinterest to return to when preparing your math lessons for the upcoming year!


Welcome to Cognitive Cardio Math! I’m Ellie, a wife, mom, grandma, and dog ‘mom,’ and I’ve spent just about my whole life in school! With nearly 30 years in education, I’ve taught:

  • All subject areas in 4th and 5th grades
  • Math, ELA, and science in 6th grade (middle school)

I’ve been creating resources for teachers since 2012 and have worked in the elearning industry for about five years as well!

If you’re looking for ideas and resources to help you teach math (and a little ELA), I can help you out!



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