# How to Connect Algebra to Real Life: a Gold Rush Exploration Activity

You hear the whining during algebra class all the time.

“*When will we use this?*”

And you, as a lover of all things mathematics, kind of want to scream sometimes. Because you and I both know that no matter how abstract, all math concepts have practical applications to them. Even ** imaginary numbers, **impractical as they sound, have practical applications in quantum physics, or measuring light.

And yet, from what I remember of my high school days, even LEARNING about imaginary numbers drove most of my classmates bonkers.

**But Algebra Doesn’t Have to Drive Anyone Mad**…

It really doesn’t. In fact, given the right differentiation and fun, algebra can not only NOT drive students crazy – learning algebra can be a memorable experience for students to look back on with **pride**.

I’ll be the first to admit that maybe you won’t be able to make all your students LOVE algebra. But at the very least, you can make it bearable for the ones who hate math. And for those who already buy into learning math, you can make it a less monotonous experience for them too.

I use a lot of hands-on cut-and-paste activities, such as Tarsia puzzles like this. I also add humor to my classes with activities where students need to solve jokes or riddles. All of these creative tasks break up the hum-drum of worksheets. Cut-and-paste tasks are especially great at providing students the opportunity for more tactile learning experiences.

That said, even with these differentiated activities, it may not be enough to engage your algebra-resistant students. So what else can you do?

**Connect Algebra to **Real Life through GOLD

No matter how hard you try to make things fun, you know exactly what it’s like. Every year we are faced with the same questions: “Why am I doing this with my life?” or, “When will I use this? This is stupid! Why am I wasting my time?”

Honestly, these are very valid questions for students to ask. And **they’re right**: why SHOULD they spend so much time learning something they dread if it won’t be useful?

For me, one of the most effective strategies to show how math can be applicable to real life would be to literally connect the concepts to real, USEFUL applications… like GOLD!

Yes, this is an algebraic expressions and equations activity, and YES, it incorporates the historical time period known as the Gold Rush. This activity seamlessly blends history and math together for one rich, multi-day learning experience. Let’s connect algebra to real life today!

**Take it from me: kids love gold.** Yes, character traits like honesty and integrity are much more important… But gold? It’s shiny and beautiful and represents financial freedom. What’s there not to love?

I’m obviously half-joking here, but truly, this Gold Rush Algebraic Expressions and Equations Exploration activity is a HUGE hit with my students. And it’s precisely because the learning is driven by something real, tangible, and practical. This Gold Rush activity pushes kids to work through algebraic expressions and equations while learning about something that is applicable to real life.

From writing expressions based on the **cost of the machines and employee wages**, **comparing volume between machines**, and **comparing different options for machinery** based on employee needs – it’s a rich resource packed full of learning opportunities that are relevant to the real world.

Why else are we learning math, if not to make it easier to understand the world around us?

And if you don’t believe me, take it from Beth, a teacher who has used this activity in her classroom. She says:

*“I started this in my intervention class to review equations and expressions. The students are invested because GOLD! We have only had two days to work on it so far, but the students come in asking if we will still be working on it. They have been very engaged and willing to work on this without complaint. I call that a win.”*

I call that a win too, Beth! It’s a testament to incorporating real-life learning alongside the learning of algebra.

**How to Use an Exploration Activit**y to Connect Algebra to Real Life

**Another point of honesty here**: sometimes, it feels like there is so much curriculum to cover that it’s nearly impossible to find the time to do lengthy real-life exploration activities like these.

I can promise you though that they are absolutely worth it.

Consider this: how long does it take you to review for large unit tests? How many questions do you need to pack into a final assessment in order to ensure that you’ve covered your bases? How many tedious review packages will be assigned?

All of this review and assessment takes up time, too. So why not swap out these hum-drum experiences (which, yes, are important as well!) with something different, like an exploration activity?

Here are 2 ways that I’ve used real-life exploration activities to differentiate learning for students.

### 1) **Enriched Practice**

I’ve provided this Gold Rush Exploration activity as a unit review before, and I highly recommend you try doing so too.

When it comes to studying for tests, there isn’t much that students dread more than a packet of worksheets. This is especially true if the worksheets are just full of equations.

Even if there were word problems in the packet, they don’t seem to be realistic. There’s a reason why memes have sprung up with things like “Bob needed 12 watermelons but he had 5 knives to slice them so how does he end up with 2 oranges?”

It’s because math practice on worksheets like this feels so disconnected from real life.

Enter: this Algebraic Expressions & Equations Gold Rush Exploration activity.

With 14 pages of over 100 questions, this activity covers many different standards around operations, writing algebraic expressions, and solving algebraic equations. All of this is wrapped in an intriguing Gold Rush experience. Your students are bound to get enough engaging practice for each of those standards with this packet!

Just remember to introduce your students to these concepts first with a bit of differentiated practice, since this activity is meant as a review rather than an instructional tool.

### 2) **Alternative Assessment Method**

Something else students absolutely dread are unit tests. Like practice packages, they are often pages upon pages of equations that are completely disconnected from practical applications.

If you’ve got students who desperately need real-life connections in their work in order to remain fully engaged, an activity like this Gold Rush Exploration resource would do the trick to boost their achievement.

Once you’ve differentiated student practice with resources like Tarsia Puzzles, Mazes, Scavenger Hunts, and Color-by-Number activities, your students will be more than happy to demonstrate their learning through a rich, engaging Gold Rush exploration like this.

And frankly, it will be more fun for you to mark too. Don’t forget to use the answer key included in the package to make THAT experience a breeze too!

**Resource Round-Up**

I’m convinced that one of the strongest differentiation strategies you can use as a caring teacher is to connect math to rich, relevant contexts.

That’s why I created this Algebraic Expressions & Equations Gold Rush Exploration resource. Working in Kentucky means that my rural kids NEED to see how the algebra we were doing could somehow connect to their lives – directly, and concretely.

I also mentioned several other resources that I’ve created to differentiate learning for my students, and they’re linked all over the place throughout this blog, so I’ll link them here for your reference.

- Hands-on Cut-and-Paste Activities – includes Tarsia Puzzles, Task Cards, and Matching
- Scavenger Hunt
- Mazes
- Color-by-Number
- Jokes and Riddles
- 4 Easy Differentiation Strategies in Math Class

Hope you enjoy the resources! If you choose to try out the Gold Rush Exploration activity, I would LOVE to hear how your students responded to it.

And if you figure out another way to incorporate the activity in your classroom that is different from anything mentioned in this blog, please let me know! Shoot me an email at sarahdavis@mathandsciencesarah.com. I’m always looking to learn too 🙂

Until next time,

Sarah