Course Feature: MAT 101: Math for Everyday Life

Math is everywhere—be it calculating your mortgage, balancing your checkbook, or figuring out the area dimensions for your home’s new carpeting—but when it comes to taking a math course, some people worry their skills won’t add up. MAT 101: Mathematics for Everyday Life is a comprehensive course that emphasizes the critical thinking involved in understanding common uses of math—a focus perfect for the average adult learner.

Program Director Margie Dunn led the creation of the innovative mathematics course in 2012. It covers a variety of topics that can be applied to adult life. Many topics are presented and applied in a manner that requires college-level critical thinking and problem solving. “Some of the topics,” says Dunn, “provide the adult learner with new perspectives, such as the mathematical beauty that can be found in music, art, and nature, or the remarkable speed of exponential growth.” Current topics include: unit conversions; percents and earning interest; compound interest in savings plan and investments; compound interest in loans, credit cards, and mortgages; mathematics in arts and nature; statistical reasoning; and inaccuracies in medical testing.

MAT 101 is specifically designed for the non-STEM student (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math). Most students, unless they are pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, are not likely to take another math course after completing their core requirements. Course instructor Chris Arney notes that many students delay taking MAT 101 until the end of their college experience because of the “dreaded” and “scary” mentality surrounding traditional math courses. The course addresses this perspective by making students aware of math in their world. He says, “They often reflect at the beginning of the course that math has nothing to do with their lives, but for some arcane reason the system is making them take this terrible subject as some kind of punishment. That attitude quickly changes, and by the end of the course, they are singing the praises of the utility of math in their lives.”

In addition to recognizing the role of math in our lives, a great takeaway from the course is the realization that a mathematics problem can be solved in a variety of ways. “There is no best way. The best way is the way you understand it,” says Dunn, explaining students may come to learn faster or easier ways as they compare solutions with their peers. This variety can also be used to check correctness, she says. “There’s no solution manual in real life—how can you be confident that your answer is correct?  Solve it a different way—or have someone else solve it in whatever way they choose —and see if you get the same results.”

Arney says the course gives students confidence to use mathematical thinking and quantitative problem solving in their everyday lives. One student remarked, “I would absolutely recommend this course to other students. The practical, real-life approach to mathematics in this course will be more useful in day-to-day life than that of many other mathematics courses.” Another noted, “Great course with interesting information. Good for an adult learner returning to college to achieve their math requirements while learning some very useful and interesting skills and information.” Another student commented on the learning techniques, saying, “I would recommend this course because being in a group with others learning the same information is better than learning on your own. I was amazed how three of my classmates worked the same problem differently but came up with the same answer…”

Dunn agrees with this perspective, saying, “Learning to communicate when group members are attacking a problem from different perspectives —whether the problem is a numeric problem or another type of problem —regardless, that communication is an important life skill.”

Interested? Consider registering for MAT 101: Math for Everyday Life for next semester.