Hello, Word Problems! Welcome to the 21st Century!

money on table, tip

Typical math curricula claim to utilize real-world examples in textbook word problems. Now, you and I both know that percentages are everywhere in daily life and are a critical element of navigating our way through it. But, you would not realize this if you were solely basing your assumption on what you see in word problems within our students’ textbooks.

For example, grades 6 and 7 Mathematics Standards in the Common Core for Michigan recommend percentages be taught “to solve a wide variety of percent problems, including those involving discounts, interest, taxes, tips, and percent increase or decrease.”  You’ve probably noticed the limited range of these examples.

Fun Fact: The word “percent” is currently ranked 265th in the most frequently used words list. https://www.wordfrequency.info/samples.asp

As a fellow teacher, I challenge you to open a 7th-grade math textbook from 1951, and right beside it, one from 2021. I’m wagering the problems and wording are almost the same. In no other middle school subject do students find lessons remaining static for 10 or 20, let alone 70 years! This failure of the system is embarrassing and appalling. A close friend recently noticed that his children often came home excited about the newest science and technology they learned about in school but never about the latest math examples. While recycling the same stale word problems, solved by their parents and grandparents before them, will aid caregivers in helping with homework, this practice cannot possibly lead to enriched classroom discussions.

If you would like to create an engaging, dynamic lesson plan when covering percentages, ask yourself if the word problems being assigned include any of the following:

  • New technology such as Tik Tok or other apps, hot topics like COVID-19, or high curiosity areas like gaming
  • Current social concerns such as graduation rates of underserved populations or homelessness
  • Relatable personal interests such as how percentages relate to grading, a family business, or sports
  • Perhaps most importantly, does the context of the problem keep the conversation going, besides how to do the math

Given the abundance of opportunities to bump into percentages in our day-to-day activities, it is easy to find mind-opening 21st-century examples that apply the skill.  As an example, the top-ranking headline-grabbing statistic in the United States today is the “percent of people who are vaccinated.” Trusted news sources regularly report low vaccination percentages in states that are experiencing significant increases in Covid-19 cases. (https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#vaccinations ) Show students where to find the CDC website that tracks vaccination totals. Look at the differences between states and age groups.  Ask them to determine how many people in their state, county, municipality, or even school would need to be vaccinated to reach the goal of 70% fully vaccinated set by President Biden. Then challenge them with a rate question. What rate of daily vaccinations is required to achieve the target within 10 days or 20 days?

Many restaurants have allowed us to become lazy, calculating various tip percentages (e.g., 18%, 20%, or 25%) and printing them on the bill. Teachers have the golden opportunity to nurture critical thinkers by discussing how important it is to have the ability to calculate a percentage if you wanted to determine if the tip percentage was calculated correctly, on just the meal price, or incorrectly, with the tax included. Additionally, how they would still need to know how to calculate percentages if they wanted to tip a different amount.

One of our free lessons featured on our website is an example of a current societal challenge, Chapter 4: Veterans’ homelessness and one of personal relevance, Chapter 2: Making the Grade.  Our textbooks contain numerous other applicable illustrations and are available in either hardcopy or as e-books.

How often do you walk into your classroom after the starting bell to your students discussing math? Daily? Weekly? Once or twice a semester? Never? Get the conversation started before you even enter the classroom. Post a question about a hot topic on the board before the class arrives. Continue the conversation by discussing the importance of why you chose that subject and how the percentage is calculated.

Can you think of any reason not to check out our free lessons? Today, more than ever, it is crucial to nurture and develop our students’ critical thinking skills.

If you have questions, feel free to contact us here.