Reading the Newspaper as a Mathematics Text

"Although there is no such thing as a perfect, everything-for-everybody mathematics text, there is a publication that comes close: the newspaper."

(Reading and Writing to Learn Mathematics, pg. 139)

There is not a better line in the book than the one above. This unit provides any teacher willing to look outside of the text an opportunity to have students seeing numbers in everyday context. The reading level of most newspapers is 8th grade and below, making the resource accessible to most readers, and the Martinez's use of numbers and mathematics in the newspaper is awe inspiring. They access numbers for counting, to calculating proportional reasoning, and to making projections among others. All are good examples of how mathematics can be accessed to make it more 'real' for our students.

I so thoroughly enjoy FIGURE 4.1 from pages 142-143 that I copy it here:

News Stories


Special Features

Election Results
Poll statistics
Catastrophic weather
War/refugee numbers and demographics
Riot/protest numbers
Magnitude of natural disasters
Dollar losses for crime and disasters
Gaming costs and income
Maps of world hot spots
Data on bond issues
Publice spending
Historic dates
Tuition hikes
Tax hikes
Land-use controversies
Environmental data
Measurements for dd-it-yourself projectcs
Patterns and measurements for sewing
Match-makers/personal stats
World/National records- biggest, smallest, oldest, youngest, farthest, heaviest
Bridge statistics




Attendance numbers
Batting averages
Win/Loss numbers
Race results
Distances, heights
Weights, times
Ratios (cost/per)
Adresses (whole numbers)
Percentages 'off'
Fractions (1/2 off)
Loan interest
Data about calories, cholesterol, fat supplement USRDAs
Serving size
Restaurant ratings
Nutrition info- grams of sodium, minerals, etc.




Travel costs
Lodging costs
Cruise-ship data and diagrams
Equipment lists and specifications
Survival supplies
Passport info
Event times and places
Project funding
Publication data
Best-seller lists
Local employment rate and salaries
Tourism stats
Election data
Assets of elected officials
Public spending
Traffic numbers
Crime numbers

Financial Pages

Home/Real Estate


Profits and losses
Interest rates
Graphs and diagrams of data
Market info
Employment stats
GNP figures
Corporate reports
Floor plans
Payment data (costs, estimated, taxes, and insurance monthly payment)
Loan rates
Realtors' sales
Area maps
Phone numbers
Square footage and dimensions
Humidity figures
Pollen counts
Solar/UV index
Average precip
Average temp
Pollution index
Wind speeds
Weather map
Numbers in family
Years of military, jobs, other service



Ticket costs
Dates and times
VCR code number
Statistical data from studies
Health-risk projects
Health-care costs
Insurance/Medicare data
Cholesterol levels
Blood-sugar levels

The opportunity to utilize all of these examples is available to grade levels from middle through high school and I really like several of the activity examples provided on page 143: Activity #2
a) What kind(s) of numbers were referred to (natural, counting, whole, fractions, irrational...)
b) Are any of the numbers rounded off? To what place(s)?
c) Was any vague language used with any of the numbers, like, some, nearly, almost, close to, etc.?
d) From the numbers that were given, can you dtermine other numbers, like percentages or fractions?
e) Does the mathematics used in the article(s) you selected make sense to you?

I think the examples that reflected the percent change concept are exceptional and easy to integrate into a classroom, and the topic is often difficult for students to understand at both the midldle and high school levels. Understanding that 1/2 off is the same as 50% off. Understanding how to relate a $10 off coupon to a 33% off coupon and if I could only use one discount when would I use which one might be an interesting discussion and consequently a good opportunity to capture student thinking in writing.

All of these starters provide students context for thinking about real-life connections to concepts that are typically taught in math curriculum throughout the United States, and if developed could easily lead to student thinking about how concepts can/are used in their daily lives. I especially like b and c. Rounding numbers and recognizing when it's important and what accuracy is used are topics that are incredibly important. Having students recognize when others are rounding and most importantly to what accuracy they are rounding is genious! A follow-up writing/activity that encourages students to think about how language is used to indicate estimation or accuracy gets at the generalization of concepts and makes a point of getting students to make connections between calculator answers and how they are used in everyday life. I see great number sense possibilities in this unit as well as important connections to applications of concepts.

The chart on page 144 is equally intriguing. As a closet social studies teacher I think primary and secondary sources is an interesting topic to think about from a mathematical perspective. I understand in social studies classes how a letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, or sales documents are primary source material but I've never taken the time to consider primary versus secondary sources in mathematics classes.

Where Do the Numbers Come From?

* Where do the numbers come from? Firsthand? Secondhand? Interview? * How were the numbers selected?
  • Can the data be manipulated to give more than one conclusion?
  • Are we looking at actual figures or estimates?
  • If people were polled, what percentage of the city, or section, or quadrant were polled, and what was the selection process?

Each of the sections on the different aspects of the newspaper (sports, financial, classified sections) provides a nice context for application. Some were better than others. The sports and financial sections were better than most, but my favorite was the "Finding Mathematics in the Comics" piece. Humore is an excellent way of capturing student's attention and when a real math fact can be inserted into the conversation the better. I once found a cartoon that discussed the stopping distance for a car traveling on a wet road. It was easy to find a regression model used to determine the stopping distance for a car on a dry road and a wet road and to compare the graphs. The students (14-15 year olds) loved the topic, were hooked by the context, and actually did some very strong analysis of the information. A rather mundane topic, such as f(x) - g(x) = was understood and described by students in their comparison. Function computation has generally been a topic that is difficult for many students to understand even when shown using engagin applicaitons, but that is the only time I've actually had students find the concept and explain it to others in the class (yes, with some scaffolding and explaining).