“When will we ever use this?” has to be the most asked question in math class. I wonder what other math teachers say when this comes up.
I also wonder why it is math teachers that seem to cop this question the most.
- Do art teachers have students putting up their hand and saying, “when am I ever going create a sub-par clay pot in real life?”
- Do PE teachers get asked, “when am I ever going to play volleyball in real life?”
- Do biology teachers ever get asked “why would I need to know about photosynthesis in real life?
No, it seems this is largely the math teachers burden. So what do we do?
Here’s my revolutionary idea. Tell them the truth.
“So, roughly speaking, there is a better than 3 in 4 chance that you won’t use anything more complicated than primary school math in your day to day life. Only 5% of people will ever get to show off those calculus skills they worked so hard on.”
So when a student asks me this question, I show them this graph and say the above… and they are terribly confused. So I continue…
“If I genuinely thought I was teaching you calculus here today, I would have quite a long time ago.
What I really hope I’m teaching you, dear student, is HOW TO LEARN.
Once you leave school, it’s the last time you’re going to have a teacher hovering over you. If you go to university, there’s a high chance the lecturer won’t know your name. He won’t know or care if you’ve taken notes correctly, or listened, or understood the work. He won’t mark the roll, so he won’t even know if you attended. You’re going to have a part-time job, sometimes you’ll miss lectures and you’ll need to catch up.
And if you don’t go to university, well, the situation is even more dire. You’ll get a job, you’ll have a boss, and that boss will expect you to learn new things. Fast. Because you’re on the clock and time is money. The business gets a new machine, a new filing system, some new software, whatever. You’ve got until midday to figure out how it works and start using it. If you don’t learn these things and start applying them… well, you aren’t much of an employee, and the boss might go looking for a new “whatever-it-is-you-do.”
So why are we learning calculus today? This is practise for the big game that is life. and if you can learn how to learn calculus, you can learn how to learn anything!”
What do you think? Too honest?