Tag Archives: life skills

Life Skills Math – Not So Easy

As I wrote previously, shopping is dense with math tasks as are grocery stores. Here are some division situations that are sneaky challenging and require a student to know when and why to divide before even reaching for the calculator. I will use these to help illustrate the fact that life skills math is not simply counting money or using a calculator to add up prices. There is a great deal of problem solving and thinking skills that need to be developed.

For example, if a student has $60 to spend on gifts for her 3 teachers the student needs to understand that she can spend up to $20 per teacher (before even talking about taxes).

An entry point for division can involve a dividing situation the students intuitively understand, e.g., sharing food. Start with 2 friends sharing 8 Buffalo wings evenly (below).

This can lead into the 3 teachers sharing the $60 evenly (below). In turn, this can be followed by the online shopping shown above.

This approach can be used to develop an understanding of unit cost (cited in the shopping is dense post). Start with a pack of items to allow the students to see the cost for a single item before getting into unit cost by ounces, for example.

I have had success with teaching these division related concepts using sheer repetition as much of our learning is experiential learning. Using a Google Jamboard as shown in the photos allows for the repetition.

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Shopping is Dense with Math Tasks

I recently worked with a student on an online grocery shopping activity – finding ingredients for mac and cheese. We had the ingredients listed in a column on a Google Doc (allows both of us to edit the doc simultaneously) and then he cropped and pasted a photo of each ingredient (see photo below). The goal was for him to identify the total he need and the total cost in planning for actual shopping or to continue with the online shopping. Note: he wasn’t actually buying anything at this point but this was a step in preparing him to do so.

This activity is dense with math tasks and shopping related tasks. The math tasks include the following:

  • Identify the price (vs quantity of the item or unit price).
  • Interpret the quantity for the ingredient.
  • Identify the units (oz and cups)
  • Convert units
  • Compare amount in box with amount needed.
  • Determine how much more is needed, if any.
  • Compare choices before selecting the item, (Barilla Pasta vs another brand).

To convert units, the “mathy” approach can be used or the student may simply use an app. For this student we chose an online unit converter (see below). This is more complicated that it appears. The student must choose the units and the order (in this case convert cups to ounces or vise versa), distinguish between imperial and US cups, understand that you enter the quantity (the search results in 1 US ounce appearing by default), and then interpret the decimal (keep in mind the ingredient quantities are in fractions).

Life skills math is more complex and challenging that parents and educators may realize. As a result, the planning for developing these skills should begin much sooner rather than later – not to mention the actual logistical tasks of shopping, e.g. finding an item in the grocery store.

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Long Range Planning in Regards to Math for Students Receiving Special Ed Services

Below is a photo of a hyper-doc that I use to map out a long range plan for math services and academics for students receiving special education services. Here is a link to a video explaining how the document is organized and how it “works.” (Note, the image of the document on the video is not crisp, so I suggest you look at the handout while watching the video.)

The document contains several links to resources such as videos, websites and blog posts that provide additional information. Feel free to reach out to me using the Contact Form on this page if you have questions or would like input. I am happy to help.

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Money in Authentic Settings

Working independently and effectively with money is a crucial component to independent living. When I started working on math for students receiving special education I was taken aback by the number of high school students who could not work with money effectively, including counting out the total value for a given set of coins.

One of the first situations I encountered involved an upperclassman who, as reported by the parent, was learning to count money by completing handouts at school. This is NOT the way to learn to handle money. Worksheets can be used to target a specific individual skill but to learn to handle money the student has to actually handle real money.

This can take the form of baby steps – learn to crawl before walking. If a student has limited money skills here is one way to get started.

  • Have the student simply hand money or a card to a clerk (see photo below). This can be done while you are shopping and the student only hands over money and receives the money.

Luisa at counter at BN

  • Pick a single item that costs a couple of dollars (and some change). Hand the student an appropriate number of bills (no change yet). Have the student count out the bills for a total and hand it over to the cashier. If necessary, have the student count out the money at a table or empty aisle in the grocery store then take the money over to pay. Then the student receives the coins and hands them back to you.

  • Same scenario but this time provide the student the bills and count out the pennies needed to pay. Choose an item that costs just a few cents, e.g. $2. 08. The student practices counting out bills and pennies.

  • Continue this with just dimes then dimes and pennies etc.

  • At some point you will want to address the concept of change returned by the cashier. To do this have the student pay with a higher bill (5 or 10 dollar bill), receive the change then count out the change at the table. Compare to what is on the receipt (see photo below).

Luisa at table with money

For many of our kiddos this process can take a long time because the simple steps like counting out dollar bills takes practice. For example, students often count out money by laying the bills side by side and this takes time. This is not an effective approach to use while standing at the aisle facing the cashier.

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Authentic Work Experience

Very clever activity implemented by the teacher who runs the Life Skills program at our school. She created envelopes (below) for each teacher. The envelopes do not contain any content but are used for practice sorting mail for the students in the program. The students in the program sort and deliver them to our mailbox. We return them to this return bin for reuse.

Such experiences should be available to all of ourĀ  students who are more severely impacted. Many will need YEARS of practice to develop skills which means a transition program from 18-21 years old may not be enough.

work experience envelopes.png

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