From cooking to home projects to planning a trip, math finds its way into most areas of daily life. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

Generations of students have sat in countless mathematics classrooms wondering why they were being asked to solve an equation for Y. Turns out, a lot of that algebra, calculus, geometry and trigonometry are part of daily lives at home in ways you may not even realize.

From baking to art to travel, there are many ways math gets used in the household and beyond.

One of the more obvious uses is with personal and household finances. Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are all commonly used in everything from balancing a checkbook to figuring out a monthly budget. But here are five other areas of daily life in which you are using math and may not even know it.

In the kitchen

Fractions can cause a lot of headaches for students and some vow they will never use them once they are out of school. But if you are doing any baking or cooking, fractions are part of your daily routine.

“Units of measurements on a measuring cup are not in decimals, they are in fractions,” said Dr. Lester French, associate professor of applied mathematics and engineering at University of Maine at Augusta. “Avid bakers and cooks know right away what three-eighths of a whole number is.”

The kitchen is where you are also likely to employ ratio and proportions.

“When it comes to recipes you may have one that serves eight people but you are cooking for just two people,” French said. “If you don’t want to be eating the same thing for five nights in a row, you are using math to determine how to adjust the ingredients to make a smaller amount.”

Next time you are able to fit all your dishes into the dishwasher or fit holiday leftovers into your refrigerator, you can thank spatial geometry, according to French.

“Loading dishwashers or packing anything is using the idea of spatial awareness,” French said. “Arranging them to make the best use of that space is spatial geometry.”

Home improvement

Building a deck or adding onto a room is a straightforward way you can use math. Planning the project means measuring so you know how many supplies to have on hand. It also lets you know how much the project is going to cost.

But what if your original plans come in under budget? That’s where you can use algebra.

“Suddenly you realize you can afford a larger project, like say a bigger deck,” French said. “But how much larger is an unknown and that is really all algebra is, solving a problem for that unknown — in this case determining how large of a deck you can now afford to build.”

It’s also useful when you are planning your garden and figuring out, based on available space, how many seeds of different flowers or vegetables you can fit in.

Artistic projects

There is something in mathematics known as the golden ratio of 1:1.618. This ratio is found in patterns throughout nature. The golden ratio can be seen in the shapes of spiral galaxies, hurricanes, snail shells, the distribution of flower petals and even in the proportions of the human body.

It is also used by painters, sewers, photographers and other artists in their creative projects.

“Artists used it in how they design or plan their art so the proportions are pleasing and even comforting to an observer,” French said. “Most of our computer or device screens are designed using that ratio because it is pleasing to look at.”

Film projects use the golden ratio to compose scenes that will best fit onto screens using the golden ratio, French said. And even common sizes of print photographs are according to the golden ratio.

The best way to achieve the golden ratio is to employ the Fibonacci sequence of numerals. The Fibonacci sequence is a series of numbers starting at 0 with each number equalling the sum of the two numbers behind it. The longer your sequence, the closer to perfection you are. This is a process commonly used by anyone who knits, crochets or sews when they design patterns. It’s also more recently been used to create an online calculator to design the perfect snowman.

Communication

Having ready access to wireless internet, radio and television in the home is something pretty much taken for granted these days. But if not for the mathematical constant of Pi, none of it would be possible.

Pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter and is expressed numerically as 3.14.

“Any transmission of radio waves and the length and frequency of those waves is calculated using Pi,” French said. “We may not be doing calculus every day using Pi, but when you use your cell phone, you are fundamentally using Pi.”

Travel

Whenever you plan a trip, math comes into play. These days there are a lot of apps used in mapping or directions that give you travel time, but even when driving to the corner store, you are more likely to use the math in your head.

“Just going around town, you use things like the posted speed limit, distance and other factors to calculate how long it’s going to take you,” French said. “And if you have fat fingers like me, it’s good to be able to do it in your head in case you make a mistake typing the information into your app.”

So next time you are baking a cake, calling a friend, working on a home craft or planning a trip, take a moment to think about those math teachers you had back in school. Turns out when you asked them if you’d ever need math when you grew up, they were right.

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.