If you want to make learning math more engaging for kids, then teaching the material through the context of relevant, real-world situations is a good way to do it.

On its own, a mathematical topic such as how positive and negative numbers can be used together to describe opposite directions or values can be confusing and uninteresting to kids who often struggle to see how a topic applies to their world.

But kids can understand and find interest in exploring this topic within a real-world context such as rising and falling temperatures, financial debits and credits, and positive and electric charges.

Another relatable real-world context for exploring the relationship between positive and negative numbers is elevation of geographic locations above or below sea level.

Do your kids understand what elevation refers to and what it means for U.S. cities like New Orleans and Miami, which are at or below sea level, and Denver, which is thousands of feet above sea level?

The following video lesson takes a deeper look into finding the elevation of geographic locations with sea level as a reference point (which represents the value zero in this situation).

The lesson is interactive and calls on kids to use Google to research their own elevation and figure out how many feet higher or lower they are than my location in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, which is where this lesson was filmed!

The lesson includes a corresponding PDF worksheet, which you can download by clicking here.

Learning Standard: Apply and extend previous understandings of numbers to the system of rational numbers.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.6.NS.C.5
Understand that positive and negative numbers are used together to describe quantities having opposite directions or values (e.g., temperature above/below zero, elevation above/below sea level, credits/debits, positive/negative electric charge); use positive and negative numbers to represent quantities in real-world contexts, explaining the meaning of 0 in each situation.

Do you have any questions or ideas for improving this lesson? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

By Anthony Persico

Anthony is the content crafter and head educator for YouTube's MashUp Math and an advisor to Amazon Education's 'With Math I Can' Campaign. You can often find me happily developing animated math lessons to share on my YouTube channel . Or spending way too much time at the gym or playing on my phone.