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Math in the Real World

Math in the Real World, a unique Foundation series designed to bring home the concept that math matters in everyday life, kicked off in April 2009 with a program at Highcrest Middle School. Presentations were timed to coincide with Highcrest’s own Math Fair, where students research a project or purchase and show the math behind their conclusions.

The program launched at HMS where 5th graders heard first-hand from an architect, airline pilot, and Northwestern’s basketball statistician – all emphasizing how math really does factor into how they get their work done successfully. Students learned how geometry, weight and fuel estimates, percentages – as well as general math calculations – factor into all of these careers, and were able to appreciate the role of math beyond the classroom.

The Foundation continues to bring speakers annually to either Highcrest or Wilmette Junior High School.


While Dr. Michelle Larson, President and CEO of The Adler Planetarium, didn’t come to the realization that “space is freaking awesome” until she literally looked up and saw the moon through her binoculars. The stunning details visible on its craggy surface were a complete surprise, and the experience left her eager to explore what other secrets the cosmos had to offer. Dr. Larson shared with WJHS students how her interest in math began at a young age and when combined with other tools such as engineering, communication, and design, she proved you can go really far. She attributed her curiosity and drive to figure things out (much like story problems) to leading her on her path to eventually become the first female President of The Adler Planetarium.


TV, social media, music & more! Dan Malmed, D39 parent and Nielsen SVP/Sales Director US Media, showed Wilmette Junior High School students how math relates to TV ratings and other media. Quizzing students about what they thought were recent highest performing video games, movies, TV show, and hit songs, Mr. Malmed illustrated how Nielsen analyzes what consumers watch and buy. Students learned how media companies and advertisers interpret Nielsen data generated by “People Meters” to make programming and marketing decisions.



Mind boggling!  Greg Mayer, D39 father and patent attorney, was the 2017 Math in the Real World speaker. He engaged WJHS students with accounts of how math helped him contest a medical device patent lawsuit, calculate the stress concentration in the vicinity of rivets in F-15 aircraft, and write a patent for to the rescue of a geosynchronous satellite from a useless orbit using the moon’s gravity.


Chris Karabas - Math in the Real World - The Rock HouseRockin’ To The Beat! This year Chris Karabas, D39 father, singer/songwriter/producer and co-owner of The Rock House demonstrated to 7th and 8th graders how he uses math every day, both as a business-owner and a musician.


Who Done It?  On March 12th students from WJHS attended a fascinating presentation by a Wilmette resident, who also happens to be a Special Agent in the FBI.  He talked about all the ways that he, as a Field Agent, and other FBI employees use math to run the bureau.  Students learned how to use geometry to process a crime scene and the importance of statistics to forecast crime. He also covered some of the mathematics of DNA, how algorithms are use to identify cyber crime, how math tools are used to predict and prevent potential terrorist activities, and much more! The kids were intrigued to hear his stories and were amazed at the variety of ways the FBI uses math to gather facts and evidence to solve and prevent crimes.


Karen MurphyGo Bears!  Karen Murphy, CFO for the Chicago Bears came to WJHS on Thursday, December 5th to present to the 7th and 8th grade students.  She talked about different ways she uses math to set budgets, record player statistics, set pricing and develop new revenue sources.  She illustrated with spread sheets and pie charts how cool it is to use math to be actively part of the Chicago Bears.  Along with the financial side of her job responsibilities with the organization, come some added bonuses which include sky box seats and the ability to fly with the team to away games! Karen’s presentation was a great example, even to the Packer fans in the audience, that math can be fun in the real world.


chiefOn May 31, 2013 the 7th and 8th graders at WJHS heard from Wilmette Fire Chief Jim Dominik and Lieutenant Ben Wozney (both alumni of D39). Jim and Ben spoke about the various ways firemen and EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) professionals use math. They explained that math was an integral part of their jobs and impacted the safety of the firefighters and fire victims in the everyday dangerous situations they face. Each person in the fire department has different roles based on an emergency and all of them are dependent on knowing math. Important things that need to be addressed at a moment’s notice include (1) determining how many firefighters to send to a fire (typically 15-17!) (2) determine the amount of water and flow to fight the fire based on the square footage of the property (3) how to administer the correct dosage of medications to those critically ill to attempt to save their lives. The kids walked away amazed at the complexity of the firefighter/paramedic job and how math is involved in every aspect. Math in the Real World truly brought math facts to life!


Math in the Real World enjoyed another local presentation in spring 2012, when Wilmette Police Chief Brian King told students he simply could not do his job and protect the Wilmette community without using math. Numbers and statistics show up everywhere from crime reports to budget projections to police vehicle service records to understanding the fitness test results for potential police recruits.


Highcrest students were in for a real treat in spring 2011, when all eyes turned to Rob and Ann Garrison, D39 parents and owners of The Noodle Cafe and Depot Nuevo. Running a restaurant requires a degree of comfort with numbers, explained the Garrisons. Projecting numbers of diners accurately helps make sure ingredients are ordered correctly, which helps profit margins. And the Garrisons demonstrated how making their signature noodles means paying close attention to measurement and quantities!


In 2010, Highcrest students learned how stockbrokers use math calculations and projections every time they place a trade. More surprising to students was a presentation by a musical composer how math is used in the musical world, particularly when it comes to balancing sounds and arranging orchestra and choral groups.


Highcrest Middle School’s fifth graders had an opportunity to discuss real-life applications of math knowledge and skills, and hear how math is part of many jobs through a presentation sponsored by the District 39 Educational Foundation’s Math & Science Initiative. Three diverse speakers, from the Wilmette and broader north shore community,  visited on April 29 to share their stories of the importance of math in their jobs.

Healy Rice and young architectsHealy Rice, who grew up, and is currently raising a family, in Wilmette is an architect specializing in residential remodeling, as well as new construction and some retail/commercial construction. Rice blends math and design skills to create houses that are beautiful, functional…and will be durable in our climate and topography. “I use math every day as an architect, from basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division to algebra, geometry and physics. Architecture is a great way to be creative artistically while working practically with numbers and shapes.”

airline pilotJohn Sullivan, a United Airlines pilot for the past 23 years and a Wilmette parent, spoke about his experience flying the largest planes in United’s fleet across the Atlantic to Europe. Math is critical to a pilot’s efforts in determining flight plans, speed and acceleration for take-off and landing, as well as monitoring all the other instruments which keep the plane flying smoothly in all kinds of weather.

NW basketball statisticianJohn Davidson is the director of operations for the Northwestern University Men’s Basketball team. Davidson discussed how math gives teams a critical competitive edge. “We use statistics primarily to measure and quantify what players do best, what they can work on, and how much they have improved. We use these statistical tools to evaluate our own players as well as our opponents.”