Yup, that’s right. The dreaded question that math teachers will face a countless number of times in their teaching career. Especially secondary math teachers like myself! And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this image come up on my Facebook or Pinterest feed:
So not only are my students doubting the usefulness of what they are learning, society is too. So how do we respond to bring them back to our side? There are always the sassy answers like “because you’ll need to know it for the test” or “because the state told me to” or “why are you even asking me this??” I caught myself giving those answers my first couple years of teaching. And then I got to thinking. I know they will use it, but not directly. So how do I explain that to them? And here’s what I have to say:
“Truth is, you may never directly use anything I teach you this year. Or you may. There is no way of knowing the answer to that right now. What I can tell you is that you will absolutely use everything I’m teaching you indirectly. I’m teaching you to think logically and sequentially, follow procedures, recognize patterns, look for structure, and be just a little more abstract. I’m teaching you to take input, analyze it, make calculations, put together several pieces of a problem to solve a larger problem, then make decisions based on your conclusions. These are highly sought after skills that can lead to a very successful career, but they are certainly not born to you.
And have you ever seen a computer programmer write code? That has Algebra written all over it! It’s a system of input, variables, and operations all written in an organized and sequential form in order to solve a problem. Miss a step? The program won’t work! So we wouldn’t have our beloved smartphones, laptops, and tablets today if it weren’t for someone sitting in an Algebra class learning how to think abstract and follow procedures. So does that mean we should stop teaching it now? Nope, because I can assure you that there is a lot more out there for us to discover. All students need to learn Algebra and perhaps YOU will be the one to design the next big thing.”
And that’s all I have to say about that. 🙂
All Things Algebra