To Solve Real-World Problems

The Back-Story

My sister-in-law called in a panic the other day:

Come help me with math! Now!!!

Good thing we are a family of math nerds. Between my husband and myself, we got her covered all the way from long division to calculus and perhaps even differential equations if the need should arise.

No sweat, Mary! We’re on the way!

We immediately donned our superhero capes and raced across town in the Batmobile.

You should know that Mary is not a slouch at math. She’s some years removed from college but altogether, she is a competent and capable adult living in the modern world. Her career is IT and she knows a ton about back-end software used in the health care industry. So when we heard her sheer desperation on the phone, we were ultimately perplexed. Why did she need math help?

Everything was in chaos as we arrived on scene. Such is life when there are a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old and a big ole dog running around a tiny house. [And it’s Christmas time to boot!]

This was the first website she showed us.

Mensa Math Pentagons

Wait a minute, Girl! This is not math. This is a logic problem. And it’s from Mensa to boot! What’s the deal here? We thought we were going over to help her brush up on fractions and decimals and Solve-for-X algebra problems, but noooooo! That would have been too easy.

Mary had just interviewed for a new job and they liked her, so now she moves onto the second interview… except it’s not going to be an interview… it’s going to be a math test. When she asked how she could study up for it, the HR person told her to google Mensa Math and then gave her a copy of this pentagon problem.

[Whoa! Kinda puts interviewing for new jobs in a whole new category!]

The HR person said:

If you come work for us, we will send you to a 12-week course on programming and coding our proprietary software system. We need to know two things about you.

First, do you have what it takes to push through 12 weeks of tough training on things you probably don’t already know anything about. Second, are you a person who can take lots of different pieces of information and put them together to solve bigger problems?


Time out. This is exactly what I’ve preached for a while now.

Idea Economy in Action

This is the real-world situation that proves my point: Public education needs to focus on creating idea-economy students.

Graduates who know lots of information are valuable. Most definitely.

Graduates who are problem-solvers and idea-makers are indispensable. The future demands these graduates.

It is not simply a luxury to have content rolling around your brain. That’s the minimum requirement anymore.

The internet has become the great information equalizer. Everyone can get info. Not everyone can turn that info into ideas and solutions. Businesses now and all the businesses of the future will only increase their demands for workers who can level up and become idea-economy innovators. Like it or not, it’s just how the world will continue to move.

As a middle school math teacher, I am acutely focused on helping my students understand that they need to learn this stuff… not simply for the sake of solving systems of linear equations, but so they can learn and practice how to think logically and attack complex problems.

Real World Math ProblemsLike many teachers, my administrator requires that I write the daily objective on the board for students. This one will be posted next week as we get back to the business of learning. Apparently, everyone in public education understands the need to make  math curriculum content relevant to real-world problems. These kinds of objectives appear in nearly every kind of textbook available.

I am baffled to no end why students cannot figure out things like comparison shopping at the grocery store or dividing a restaurant check according to who ate what rather than splitting it evenly. If we put so much energy into teaching real-world problem-solving, why can’t students solve real-world problems?

That’s what we’re working on here at #NeverSummer.

Matthew and Laine
Matthew is 4. It won’t be long before he’s in the same boat as his mom. Will we help him become an idea-economy student?

In June 2016, we will be hosting an event in Denver to gather educators and business leaders to find ways to pivot these outdated models of education. Because we just aren’t producing capable students these days… idea-economy students who have the mindset to move the future forward.

More details coming soon! In the meantime, drop us an email:

  • Elaine:
  • Jess: