Math IS Real Life – August 2013 edition: a patio and fence project

“When are we EVER going to use THIS?!”  This statement… this one little statement has caused fear and panic to run through MANY a math teacher’s veins!  It’s not like you won’t use math in the real world… but sometimes as soon as that question is uttered we have a mind-melting-moment and cannot come up with just the right words to say.
So to help give you some real world, possibly out of the box thinking type ideas, my Book Blogging Buddies and I have come up with an idea that we think will be
Presenting….. math IS real life!  A monthly REAL WORLD math blog link-up hosted by 4mulaFunFourth Grade StudioTeaching to Inspire in 5th, AND MissMathDork,

So here is how this will work…. on the FIRST Wednesday of every month (today is the first one!!!) all four of us will create a blog post about how we have RECENTLY used math in our real life – not just counting or time…. but topics that your kiddos will be able to relate to at various level of upper elementary and middle school.  Then at the bottom of all four of our blogs we will have a link-up that will sync between all four blogs.  This means you link up to one of us and it will be visible on all 4 blogs! 


Okay, okay, enough about how the linky works…. let’s get on to the real reason you are here – making math real!  My husband and I bought a house 3 years ago in June.  We’ve taken our time getting to know our house and slowly taking on projects.  This year we decided to take on “making a backyard” – we wanted a patio off the deck, stairs leading to the patio, a fence, some actual landscaping, maybe some trees, etc. etc. .  We decided to call in some landscapers to figure out some ideas.  After talking to two landscapers we decided they were WAAAAY out of our price range.  So, we called Long Fence to price out getting a fence.  If nothing else, we wanted to fence in the yard so that our dog Dozer could run around a bit without needing his leash on.

Before picture 
 Before picture 
Before picture 
Before picture 
Before picture
So Long Fences sent out Matt.  Matt came over on a Saturday morning, talked me through the entire process and told me that not only could he put in a fence for us, he could put down a patio as well.  The best part is their price for the fence AND patio was cheaper than ONLY a patio from the two landscapers….. um…. yeah, really!  Obviously, we were super stoked for this.  So we sat down and Matt gave me two books.  One had different types of fences that we could choose from – unfortunately for us (or maybe fortunately because I don’t make decisions well) we were only allowed to choose from 2 different models because of HOA rules.  So that was a pretty easy decision.  But the other book they gave us had well over 60 pages of stone designs to choose from – UM, YIKES!!!  I wish I had the book here to show you the pages.  There is so much math in the designs of the pages – the tessellations, the sizes, the patterns, how some designs fit together in 2, 3, or 4 different blocks and different sizes. Eventually we were able to make a decision.  I even surprised my husband by choosing a design that was considered “random” – why you ask? Well, my mind works in patterns a lot and whenever I look at a group of blocks I like to look for patterns.  You would think this would lead me to get a pattern in the patio – but no…. if  there was supposed to be a pattern and for some reason it was the slightest bit off…. it would have bothered me to no end!  no … really!  So we opted for “random” which now allows me to find mini patterns within the blocks and I love how the sizes and shapes fit together differently every where I look!

The fence we chose
The patio design we chose

Anyhoo….  After Matt came out and we signed all the paper work and got HOA approval (UGH, right?) we began the process. First, there was the need to find the stakes so that we could guarantee we were on our property.  Matt just happened to have a handy metal detector in his car.  He went to work and flagged out the entire yard.  Then we had to talk about where we wanted to place the gate.  As we were not putting in a walk way, we opted for the aesthetic balance of placing the fence in the middle of fence on the side yard. At that point Matt measured the side yard and decided how many posts he needed and how many sections he would need.  Thankfully the yard measurements worked out very nicely (thank you Mr. Builder?!) and we were able to have a very even number of posts without having to split anything in a weird place.  One weird piece about our yard is the pre-existing privacy fence that we are not allowed to move (again, thank you HOA…) so our “perimeter” fence was more of a 3 sided fence.  After all the measurements had been taken, Matt drew out a sketch and we okayed the  layout and again, got HOA approval.

Here Matt was able to sketch out the yard and all the figures needed to design the yard.  
 On a Wednesday morning, the patio crew came out, and a week later the fence crew came out.  Then the following Tuesday, the stair guys came out!  Getting all the different crews scheduled was quite the feat – thankfully we’re “off” during the summer, right?!  

The patio guys arrive!  Wow that’s a TON of gravel!
The patio process was amazing.  First they used an awesome machine to pull up all the sod.  Then they grated the ground  to make it level (well not completely level, they needed to have a bit of a slope in order to allow for drainage) After ‘leveling’ the ground, they laid a layer of gravel and sand and used a machine to pound it all ‘level’ again.  This entire process took about 4 hours…. then the magic happened.  I could hear them placing the pavers and I went out to watch.  The spatial reasoning those men had was astounding.  They placed all the pavers in about 10 minutes.  They were like machines! After placing the pavers, they, more gently this time, used the machine to pound everything ‘level’.  Then they swept a special sand into the cracks.  This sand has mini pieces of concrete mixed in.  Once they had it all swept in, they used the hose to gently spray down the patio so the sand would strengthen and set.   
finished patio (and very dead grass… it was 95 degrees that day!)
Dozer checking out the new patio.  For days after it was put down, he would make sure to walk across it every time we went out back to use the bathroom.
A close up of the design.  It started raining as I was taking the pic so the pattern is covered in rain speckles!
The fence crew showed up on July 5th.  They were supposed to be here between 10 and 11am.  Guess who was super surprised when the doorbell rang at 6:15am…. um, yes, we were TOTALLY awarded the NEIGHBORS of the YEAR award that morning!  Hole diggers with your coffee anyone?!
Fixing the privacy fence where Hurricane Sandy played with it like it was a see-saw
This was my absolute favorite part of the whole process.  I’m not going to lie, I was a bit nervous when I looked out and saw the uneven boards.  Then I looked over a bit and saw one of the builders used what appeared to be a circular saw to carve the dip into the fence.  No guide, no lines…. just took the saw and hand cut the dip in… it was AMAZING!! 
3 hours…. 3 hours and the fence was up.  By 9:30 the fence was up!  That was an hour before they were even supposed to be at the house!!!
Fence view from the deck.
Fixed privacy fence and fence view.
View over the patio of the new fence. 
My balanced gate on my symmetric fence!
The handyman showed up the following week and removed a portion of our ‘cage’ so that we could have stairs added in.  He did such a great job on them.  He added in extra vertical boards to help make them extra sturdy.  My husband and I were going to do the stairs ourselves but the sloping of the patio for drainage caused a bit of an issue for us.  The left side is one inch short than the right.  The handyman needed to make custom stringers (the stair step pieces that the stairs sit on) so that they stairs would be level even if the patio sloped for drainage. 
Dozer enjoying his new access to the backyard! 
And,….. his new favorite thing to do is ask to go outside so that he can lay in the grass in the sun for a few minutes of warmth and tanning!

So, you may notice that I tried not to get super mathy with my descriptions.  However, here are various math topics that related to our project this summer:  scheduling , time management, measurement, perimeter, area, degrees of measure, patterns, balance, symmetry and budgeting.


We are so incredibly excited to read about how YOU use MATH in your REAL LIFE!!!
Categories: #mirl, computation and estimation, geometry and measurement, math is real life, and mathematical reasoning.


    • Thanks so much Meg! You are so right! SO often students only see “nice” figures such as rectangles. While the majority of my yard is rectangular, the yard actually ended up to be a decagon – surprisingly of the 10 “sides” only 3 of them had a fence added to it!

  1. I don’t have a blog, so I thought I’d share here. I’m diabetic so I use math all the time. I need to calculate how many grams of carbs I’m eating at each meal, which often means looking at the serving size and multiplying or dividing from there. I often need to measure the food I’m about to eat with a scale or measuring cup.

    When it’s a ‘mixed meal’ or large serving, like cheesecake or lasagna I need to add up the total carbs in all the ingredients then decide on a serving size and divide by the total # of servings in order to figure out the # of carbs per serving.

    Recently, I needed to use the 1/3 measuring cup. The one cup was in the cabinet which meant the 1/4, 1/3, and 1/2 were drying in the dish rack. They were all upside down so how could I figure out which cup to get without turning them all over to read the label? With my knowledge of fractions! I knew that 1/3 was in between 1/2 and 1/4 in size so I picked the medium-sized measuring cup.

    Lots of math! The kids can easily relate to this because of cooking/eating, some children are diabetic/on a special diet, and just to tie it in with good nutrition (reading a food label, portion control) in general.

    Thanks for this linky!

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