One of my goals as a math teacher is to present real-life math every chance I get. It is not always easy, I have to admit. When I was in college and the earlier part of my teaching career, I was all about the math… not how I might could use it in real life. I’ve made it a goal of mine to find real-life situations. I’ve also tried to catch the situation in action, but it’s not always possible especially since sometimes I think of an idea while driving or when I’m falling asleep at night.

My recent thoughts have been about arithmetic sequences. Seems easy, right? They are linear. There are a ton of linear situations. Yes, but I want visuals! I also did not want the situation to be a direct variation or always positive numbers and always increasing or positive slopes.

Below are some of the situations I’ve come up with along with a picture. I’m happy for you to use these situations with your classes. Enjoy!

Stacking cups, chairs, bowls etc. (Stacking anything works, but the situations is different when one thing fits inside the other.) The idea is comparing the number of objects to the height of the object.

Pyramid-like patterns, where objects are increasing or decreasing in a constant manner. Ideas for this are seats in a stadium or an auditorium. A situation might be that seats in each row are decreasing by 4 from the previous row. I use this in one of my arithmetic sequence worksheets.

Filling something is another good example. The container can be empty or already have stuff in it. An example could be a sink being filled or a pool being filled. (Draining should also be considered!) The rate at which the object is being filled versus time would be the variables.

Seating around tables. Think about a restaurant. A square table fits 4 people. When two square tables are put together, now 6 people are seated. Put 3 square tables together and now 8 people are seated. I really love this example. You can use a rectangular table as well and start off with 6 seats.

Fencing and perimeter examples are always nice. Discuss how adding a fence panel to each side of a rectangular fence would change the perimeter. Figure one could have one panel on each side (or change it so it isn’t square). Figure two could have two panels on each side. Each time find the new perimeter. The possibilities for fencing are endless. But how fun would it be to get actual toy fence pieces and do this in your classroom?!

Even though this is not particularly a real-life situation, it’s still good because the visual is real life. The students can touch the objects or even create the pattern themselves! Use toothpicks, paperclips or even cereal to make patterns. If you’d rather set them up somewhere in the room for math centers, then that would be good too! The following is an idea with cereal. If you count total Froot Loops, it’s not arithmetic, so it’s best to stick with rows, perimeter, or sides of the triangle to stay with a linear pattern. (Counting all of them is an area problem, so that would make it quadratic.)

Negative number patterns are not as easy to find. Our thoughts usually go to temperature or sea level. There are some fascinating places on earth that are below sea level. I think it would be cool to do a study on some of them. Once you’ve talked about some of these places, then various situations could be created like, during a rainfall the surface of the water started at 215 feet below sea level and rose at a rate of such and such per hour.

Situations involving diving in the ocean could be used as well. Did you know that a diver should descend at a rate no faster than 66 feet per minute or ascend at a rate of no more than 30 feet per minute? I’m sure many students don’t know why and this could certainly create some great accountable talk.

I hope I’ve given you plenty to think about. It’s really fun to create these problems. Students need to know that their math is real and useful! I hope this encourages you to use some of these examples or make up some of your own. I’d love to hear some of your examples. Leave a comment if you’d like. We can all learn from each other!

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Some of the examples I used above are in my Arithmetic Sequence Activity seen below. When I was creating this resource, it really stretched my thinking. I wanted to create something that students could learn from and see how these patterns are involved in real-life situations. I’ve attached a couple more of my resources. I’m working on the geometric sequence activity now and hope to finish in a week or so. The second resource is an arithmetic and geometric sequence and series game. It is really suited for Algebra 2. The resource at the bottom is a formula chart for geometric and arithmetic sequences and series. It’s a freebie, so take advantage and download from my store!