"When am I going to use this?"

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navigatr85
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"When am I going to use this?"

Postby navigatr85 » Wed Mar 03, 2010 1:29 am UTC

I teach math and physics. Sometimes my students will ask me questions like, "Why do I have to learn this?" or "When am I ever going to use this in real life?" I've wondered those things too, and I've never actually been able to come up with a satisfying answer. Honestly, I think there are a lot of things taught in classrooms that the students won't ever use again after graduation. I still teach all those things, though, because the college requires me to. But I'm wondering why those those topics were put into the required curriculum in the first place.

The main example that comes to mind is requiring higher-level math for students who are in a field that's unrelated to math, engineering, or physics. For example, I know a student this semester who's going for a degree in Exercise Science, and she's taking a math class that covers things like domain, range, solving quadratic equations, and so on. The class is required for all Exercise Science students. She's pointed out that she probably won't use any of that stuff in any kind of exercise-related job after she graduates. I agree with her. The realization that she won't use these things ever again has made her VERY unmotivated to learn the concepts in this class.

Some of my co-workers have told me that by studying math, students develop the ability to think more logically. They say that, even if the student never uses those math concepts again, they can apply that logical thinking ability to many other aspects of life. But that explanation doesn't satisfy me. What ARE those real-life situations in which highly logical thinking is required? If those situations do exist, wouldn't it'd be better to actually teach those real-life situations in class, along with the math? Or wouldn't it'd be even better to just eliminate the math altogether and just teach those real-life situations?

You might be thinking that math classes DO talk about real-life situations, in the form of word problems. But every word problem in every higher math class seems to be very contrived. For example, when teaching quadratic equations, teachers often use word problems involving throwing a ball in the air, and determining how long it would take for the ball to hit the ground. But the average person isn't going to come upon a situation in everyday life in which they'll need to calculate something like that.

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Dason
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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby Dason » Wed Mar 03, 2010 1:40 am UTC

It's quite possible that they'll never use it. You can ask whether that matters though.
double epsilon = -.0000001;

achan1058
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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby achan1058 » Wed Mar 03, 2010 2:17 am UTC

navigatr85 wrote:Some of my co-workers have told me that by studying math, students develop the ability to think more logically. They say that, even if the student never uses those math concepts again, they can apply that logical thinking ability to many other aspects of life. But that explanation doesn't satisfy me. What ARE those real-life situations in which highly logical thinking is required? If those situations do exist, wouldn't it'd be better to actually teach those real-life situations in class, along with the math? Or wouldn't it'd be even better to just eliminate the math altogether and just teach those real-life situations?
Just about anything, from politics, to science, to argument, etc. The lack of logic that I have seen so often is appalling.

Anyways, one real use of high school math that everyone should know is probability and statistics. (and we do teach them in Canada, though I don't know about the States) Unless the student does not intend to gamble, play bridge, poker, etc. what-so-ever, probability would serve them well. Statistics is also important, seeing how they appear on the newspapers all the time. (often in ways that intend to mislead you) And of course, to do these well, you need some amount of algebra background.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby dg61 » Wed Mar 03, 2010 2:40 am UTC

navigatr85 wrote:I teach math and physics. Sometimes my students will ask me questions like, "Why do I have to learn this?" or "When am I ever going to use this in real life?" I've wondered those things too, and I've never actually been able to come up with a satisfying answer. Honestly, I think there are a lot of things taught in classrooms that the students won't ever use again after graduation. I still teach all those things, though, because the college requires me to. But I'm wondering why those those topics were put into the required curriculum in the first place.

The main example that comes to mind is requiring higher-level math for students who are in a field that's unrelated to math, engineering, or physics. For example, I know a student this semester who's going for a degree in Exercise Science, and she's taking a math class that covers things like domain, range, solving quadratic equations, and so on. The class is required for all Exercise Science students. She's pointed out that she probably won't use any of that stuff in any kind of exercise-related job after she graduates. I agree with her. The realization that she won't use these things ever again has made her VERY unmotivated to learn the concepts in this class.

Some of my co-workers have told me that by studying math, students develop the ability to think more logically. They say that, even if the student never uses those math concepts again, they can apply that logical thinking ability to many other aspects of life. But that explanation doesn't satisfy me. What ARE those real-life situations in which highly logical thinking is required? If those situations do exist, wouldn't it'd be better to actually teach those real-life situations in class, along with the math? Or wouldn't it'd be even better to just eliminate the math altogether and just teach those real-life situations?

You might be thinking that math classes DO talk about real-life situations, in the form of word problems. But every word problem in every higher math class seems to be very contrived. For example, when teaching quadratic equations, teachers often use word problems involving throwing a ball in the air, and determining how long it would take for the ball to hit the ground. But the average person isn't going to come upon a situation in everyday life in which they'll need to calculate something like that.

Whatever happend to "learning stuff because it's cool"? I may never use knowledge of what the Bloodbath of Stockholm was (well, except to fail to fraud a multiple-choice question or to amuse my classmates), but that doesn't make it any less interesting.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby Shivari » Wed Mar 03, 2010 2:58 am UTC

I agree with dg61 that statistics is probably the most useful math the average person could know beyond basic arithmetic. After that, it really is pretty pointless. Even if it did develop logical thinking, mathematical logic isn't quite the same as using logic to solve a real world problem (unless you happen to be an engineer, which most people aren't).

The same goes for most everything in science beyond basic concepts. There are absolutely no situations in my life where I'll need to figure out anything I've learned in chemistry this year. The molecular geometry of some molecule I've never heard of? It means less to me than the dirt I walk on.

dg61 wrote:Whatever happend to "learning stuff because it's cool"? I may never use knowledge of what the Bloodbath of Stockholm was (well, except to fail to fraud a multiple-choice question or to amuse my classmates), but that doesn't make it any less interesting.


Just because you find it interesting doesn't mean that everyone finds it interesting or needs to suffer through it though. I find art history interesting but I'm sure most of my peers would be rather unamused by it, and I would be unamused by their chemistry. I think it's important to keep a certain curriculum up to a point so that people are exposed to everything, but after a certain point they realize what they want to follow through with and what they will avoid if in any way possible, and yet in high school we have pretty basic requirements and still keep a list of bland general requirements in college.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby Omegaton » Wed Mar 03, 2010 3:11 am UTC

I have contemplated this as a TA in Human Anatomy, but it comes with the territory if they want to earn that degree...

achan1058 wrote:Anyways, one real use of high school math that everyone should know is probability and statistics. (and we do teach them in Canada, though I don't know about the States) Unless the student does not intend to gamble, play bridge, poker, etc. what-so-ever, probability would serve them well. Statistics is also important, seeing how they appear on the newspapers all the time. (often in ways that intend to mislead you) And of course, to do these well, you need some amount of algebra background.

From here in the states, at least at my high school, statistics was optional. I agree it's important.

dg61 wrote:Whatever happend to "learning stuff because it's cool"? I may never use knowledge of what the Bloodbath of Stockholm was (well, except to fail to fraud a multiple-choice question or to amuse my classmates), but that doesn't make it any less interesting.

Unfortunately, not everyone thinks everything you need to learn is cool.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby dg61 » Wed Mar 03, 2010 3:16 am UTC

Shivari wrote:I agree with dg61 that statistics is probably the most useful math the average person could know beyond basic arithmetic. After that, it really is pretty pointless. Even if it did develop logical thinking, mathematical logic isn't quite
the same as using logic to solve a real world problem (unless you happen to be an engineer, which most people aren't).

This is the second time in less than a month that I've been mistaken for someone else on the internet. Also, my comment is less an attack on non-intersest in math than it its an attack on the assumption that something must be work-useful to be worth learning about, which is the attitude expressed in the OP. "Why do we have to learn math? It's borrrrrrrrring" is one thing. It's a reasonable opinion, although I disgaree with it. "Why do we have to learn math? we won't use it like we use knowlege of bus timetables" is something that does bother me, though, because of the larger attitude it conveys.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby achan1058 » Wed Mar 03, 2010 4:31 am UTC

Shivari wrote:I agree with dg61 that statistics is probably the most useful math the average person could know beyond basic arithmetic. After that, it really is pretty pointless. Even if it did develop logical thinking, mathematical logic isn't quite the same as using logic to solve a real world problem (unless you happen to be an engineer, which most people aren't).
I disagree. Mathematical logic is what logic people should use to solve real world problems and analyze real world situation. (I mean the more informal variety, of course, and not the massive symbol spam that I occasionally see.) The fact that it differs in practice is an unfortunate issue, since it means that people are more likely to buy into crack-pot arguments.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby Chen » Wed Mar 03, 2010 1:36 pm UTC

dg61 wrote:This is the second time in less than a month that I've been mistaken for someone else on the internet. Also, my comment is less an attack on non-intersest in math than it its an attack on the assumption that something must be work-useful to be worth learning about, which is the attitude expressed in the OP. "Why do we have to learn math? It's borrrrrrrrring" is one thing. It's a reasonable opinion, although I disgaree with it. "Why do we have to learn math? we won't use it like we use knowlege of bus timetables" is something that does bother me, though, because of the larger attitude it conveys.


Well if someone is asking WHY we have to learn something I'd say it pretty strongly correlates to them not finding it interesting. I mean in school you're generally forced to learn a lot of things. For people who aren't interested in said things, they would ostensibly think there should be a REASON they are forced to learn them.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby sikyon » Wed Mar 03, 2010 3:10 pm UTC

Because it makes you more logical and creative, if you put the effort in.

People say that most of the things you learn in schol will never be used. That's because they don't use them, nor do they TRY to use them. I have worked at 5 different jobs during co-op at university, and I have applied as much as I can. I have looked at problems on semiconductors from angles ranging from mathematics to organic chemistry to philosophy. I have used the broadest, most conceptual solutions to technical details I recalled from a single class.

Look, if all you want to do is an average job, then you don't NEED 90% of what you learn in school. If you wan't to do a fantastic job, you'll WANT all of it.

Example: If I come into a job with a chemical engineering problem that's been there for 40 years... am I going to try and solve it using chemical engineering? No. I'm smart, but not 40 years worth of chemical engineers smart. Instead, I'll approach it with physics, statistics, computation, everything else.

It's like doing anything in your life. You have to TRY, in order to get better. I've played many hundreds of hours of starcraft recreationaly, but I've never gotten signifigantly better. But when I actually started TRYING to get better, focusing on my skills, I actually became better.

In short, if she wants to have an average life as an average exercise science professional then she should put in an poor effort. If she wants to be able to track quadratic rates of growth, calculate the rate of change of the people she helps, and do any sort of statistical analysis, she'll need it. A construction worker would benifit from an understanding of newtownian physics to make his job eaisier, which requires math. An artist could benifit from a chemical understanding of the viscocities of their paints, and physics to make statues that don't fall down.

But in the end, if she wants to be average then she can put in a minimal effort.

P.S. Domains? Ranges? These barley count as math. They're fundamental enough to almost be axiomic (to an engineer). Quadratic equations? She'll eventually need to fit data to statistics, and what's she going to fit a curve to? A straight line? She should understand at least different functions such as quadratic, cubic, inverse and exponential to help her recognize data in the future. No, she won't have to solve them by hand, but she does need to know what to look for when she's working in excel. And honestly, if it doesn't come into your head when you need it you're not going to remember to use it. I don't remember how to do a fourier transform but I remember what it does: If I ever need it, I will KNOW that I need it (which is the key) and I can look up the details in a book.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby Terpsichore » Wed Mar 03, 2010 11:02 pm UTC

^^ I'd just like to point to the above as some of the best advice I've read this year.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby Shivari » Wed Mar 03, 2010 11:08 pm UTC

dg61 wrote: "Why do we have to learn math? It's borrrrrrrrring" is one thing. It's a reasonable opinion, although I disgaree with it. "Why do we have to learn math? we won't use it like we use knowlege of bus timetables" is something that does bother me, though, because of the larger attitude it conveys.


What is the larger attitude that it conveys?

sikyon wrote:Example: If I come into a job with a chemical engineering problem that's been there for 40 years... am I going to try and solve it using chemical engineering? No. I'm smart, but not 40 years worth of chemical engineers smart. Instead, I'll approach it with physics, statistics, computation, everything else.


And how many people are chemical engineers? Or need to use physics to figure out a problem in their job? There's no doubt that some people need to know science and math stuff, but we don't all need that much.

sikyon wrote:In short, if she wants to have an average life as an average exercise science professional then she should put in an poor effort. If she wants to be able to track quadratic rates of growth, calculate the rate of change of the people she helps, and do any sort of statistical analysis, she'll need it.


Say she becomes a personal trainer after she receives her degree. I highly doubt she's going to be "tracking quadratic rates of growth" in her clients. That's something a statistician would be doing if he was studying personal trainers. The actual personal trainer will be using the skills that directly enable them to do their job, and be tracking the tangible fitness progress of her clients. Numbers and graphs are great to study things, but she'll be more concerned with improving the fitness of her clients.

She might use some basic things like charting their weight loss or something, but you can do that with elementary school math knowledge.

A construction worker would benifit from an understanding of newtownian physics to make his job eaisier, which requires math. An artist could benifit from a chemical understanding of the viscocities of their paints, and physics to make statues that don't fall down.


Definitely, but what they'll be using is the conceptual ideas of those disciplines, not calculation stuff.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby dg61 » Thu Mar 04, 2010 4:54 am UTC

Shivari wrote:
dg61 wrote: "Why do we have to learn math? It's borrrrrrrrring" is one thing. It's a reasonable opinion, although I disgaree with it. "Why do we have to learn math? we won't use it like we use knowlege of bus timetables" is something that does bother me, though, because of the larger attitude it conveys.


What is the larger attitude that it conveys?

That one is only interested in things only insofar as they are practially useful, which is a pretty narrowminded attitude that a little reflection(are not TV programs and large swathes of Youtube as impractical to a fitness instructor as medium maths or knowledge of history) ought to cure. So on reflection prehaps it is simply a matter of people not thinking rigorously. The other thing that bothers me, I suppose, is that in some sense it presuppoese that we can't learn to like or at least understand what we don't currently enjoy.

An artist could benifit from a chemical understanding of the viscocities of their paints, and physics to make statues that don't fall down.


Definitely, but what they'll be using is the conceptual ideas of those disciplines, not calculation stuff.[/quote]
Or they will find valuable artistic influences in these disciplines. They would hardly be the first artists to be inspired or influenced by science and engineering.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby achan1058 » Thu Mar 04, 2010 6:43 am UTC

dg61 wrote:Or they will find valuable artistic influences in these disciplines. They would hardly be the first artists to be inspired or influenced by science and engineering.
Like M.C. Escher, for example. (the guy who did those rather fascinating tile drawings and impossible architectures)

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby Fume Troll » Thu Mar 04, 2010 7:25 am UTC

navigatr85 wrote:She's pointed out that she probably won't use any of that stuff in any kind of exercise-related job after she graduates. I agree with her.


For a start, who knows what kind of job she may end up in? Many people's careers take them into all sorts of different areas, often quite unpredictably. For example. Try to sell it as arming herself with a diverse set of tools which can provide opportunities in a changing environment. Who knows, her sports science could easily lead to biomechanics or prosthetics desgin; you'd never know at this stage.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby sikyon » Thu Mar 04, 2010 1:09 pm UTC

And how many people are chemical engineers? Or need to use physics to figure out a problem in their job? There's no doubt that some people need to know science and math stuff, but we don't all need that much.


Yes, you can figure out a solution to your problem without using science. But you might be able to figure out a BETTER solution if you did understand the science behind what you were doing.

Say she becomes a personal trainer after she receives her degree. I highly doubt she's going to be "tracking quadratic rates of growth" in her clients. That's something a statistician would be doing if he was studying personal trainers. The actual personal trainer will be using the skills that directly enable them to do their job, and be tracking the tangible fitness progress of her clients. Numbers and graphs are great to study things, but she'll be more concerned with improving the fitness of her clients.

She might use some basic things like charting their weight loss or something, but you can do that with elementary school math knowledge.


How will she know what's a good weight loss method and what is not? She'll read papers published in her field to try and determine appropriate excersizes. She'll have to evaluate these papers independantly, and by understand the reasons behind the mentods in these papers she can then make sure her clients are getting the most out of them. If she were a great instructor. If she were a mediocre instructor, she would blindly follow the abstract of a thousand different papers on excersize, or listen to someone else, and always being the follower.

Definitely, but what they'll be using is the conceptual ideas of those disciplines, not calculation stuff.


When it comes down to physics, calculation is king. I'm not talking about solving equations on paper by hand, I'm talking about remembering what sort of formula is applicable and what it's general form/order is. It's about being able to guesstimate values and having a spatial understanding of physical systems to anticipate events. You need to be able to guess what is going to happen when you swing that beam around, or if X platform is going to hold your weight. You can do it by guess-and test, or you could be BETTER and do it by rough math.

It's not my job to come up with uses for math and science in every situation you can imagine. That is the worker's job, and a combination of their intellect and their knowledge. If they won't try to creativly apply it, then no, there's no point in them learning it.

As I said before - if you want to be average, put in an average effort. If you want to be fantastic, put in a great effort. There are always people smarter and always people that work harder than you. If you want to move ahead, if you want to be better than average, then you better learn as much as you can.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby Chen » Thu Mar 04, 2010 1:51 pm UTC

sikyon wrote:As I said before - if you want to be average, put in an average effort. If you want to be fantastic, put in a great effort. There are always people smarter and always people that work harder than you. If you want to move ahead, if you want to be better than average, then you better learn as much as you can.


While I agree with the learning more part being useful in moving ahead, there are certain things that are worth far more than others, especially depending on what field you are in. In a field where you don't generally need a lot of math/science (but where it could be used creatively, as you stated) you'd probably move ahead faster through learning better social/group dynamics and more political type stuff. Not even necessarily anything backhanded politically but just how to deal better with people. We have people here at work who are excellent at their jobs and do creative things all the time. But you also have a lot of social ineptness or just poor decorum that is going to be prevent them from advancing that far. So yes, learning in school is definitely of use, but there is a TON of focus on purely academic matters when social interaction, even if just with friends or other groups of people, is not nearly focussed on enough.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby sikyon » Thu Mar 04, 2010 3:54 pm UTC

While I agree with the learning more part being useful in moving ahead, there are certain things that are worth far more than others, especially depending on what field you are in. In a field where you don't generally need a lot of math/science (but where it could be used creatively, as you stated) you'd probably move ahead faster through learning better social/group dynamics and more political type stuff. Not even necessarily anything backhanded politically but just how to deal better with people. We have people here at work who are excellent at their jobs and do creative things all the time. But you also have a lot of social ineptness or just poor decorum that is going to be prevent them from advancing that far. So yes, learning in school is definitely of use, but there is a TON of focus on purely academic matters when social interaction, even if just with friends or other groups of people, is not nearly focussed on enough.


You're talking about "soft skills." Soft skills are skills which are transferable and applicable anywhere, and form the foundation of our communities. You are right in their importance - Lets say I'm a genius. However, can I produce as much as 2 people can? 5 people? 20 people? If I cannot interact socially, then it's going to be 1 vs 20.

However, the thing about soft skills is that you can learn them anywhere. You don't need to take a course on them, unlike hard skills. They can, infact, be developed simultaniously. It's not as if engineers and scientists have to do less networking and politicking then anyone else. I therefore suggest that you try as hard as possible at everything that you do. That includes studying, playing and making friends. Play hard, and work hard.

As to your observations on social ineptness, this is a concern. There are many people who do not conform to social norms and regular interactions. Is this from the fact that they spent ten hours in their rooms studying every day and never got to see any friends? If so, this is not good. However, if it's from having a quirky group of friends, and part of your personality, then it's not something you can change.

I don't think someone who wants to become a physical trainer should strive to get 100% in math. It is not a good use of their time. Instead, they should strive to learn the concepts and aim for a decent mark that reflects a proportionate amount of effort. If that time, however, could be better spent elsewhere (such as at the gym or in anatomy class) then that's fine too. Yet merely dismissing mathmatics even when there is time to learn it (say, time otherwise spent infront of the TV) is a poor decision. On the other hand, if it really does take you 6 hours a night to master high school mathmatics, I would honestly suggest you "give up" on it. You're bad at math and won't need it - your time will be better spent elsewhere.

If I were a math teacher, I would be upset if a student simply dismissed mathmatics as irrelevent and refused to consider its study. However, I would not be upset if that student had carefully weighed the pros and cons and decided that there were other, more productive things they could be doing. Math is useful, but not some sort of holy grail to most people. It is a tool, not a goal, and while having a 30" wrench over a 24" wrench in your toolbox could be very useful, it should not come at the sacrifice of having to remove the flashlight.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby Chen » Thu Mar 04, 2010 4:20 pm UTC

sikyon wrote:If I were a math teacher, I would be upset if a student simply dismissed mathmatics as irrelevent and refused to consider its study. However, I would not be upset if that student had carefully weighed the pros and cons and decided that there were other, more productive things they could be doing. Math is useful, but not some sort of holy grail to most people. It is a tool, not a goal, and while having a 30" wrench over a 24" wrench in your toolbox could be very useful, it should not come at the sacrifice of having to remove the flashlight.


I think that was generally the point that comes up when someone asks "why do I need to learn this?". If people cannot give a reasonable answer to this question, it is logical to stop trying to learn it. I mean if more experienced people (teachers included) cannot fathom a way you could use X skill, it seems to me like a logical conclusion would be that X skill is either extremely specific or just plain useless.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby sikyon » Thu Mar 04, 2010 8:54 pm UTC

think that was generally the point that comes up when someone asks "why do I need to learn this?". If people cannot give a reasonable answer to this question, it is logical to stop trying to learn it. I mean if more experienced people (teachers included) cannot fathom a way you could use X skill, it seems to me like a logical conclusion would be that X skill is either extremely specific or just plain useless.


Unless you actually want to become a teacher, it is unlikly that your teacher can tell you when you would need to something in your career field. You are confusing the fact that your teacher is more experienced than you to mean that your teacher knows everything. They may very well know nothing about the field, even with an education therein (work is far different from school). Even if your teacher had specific knoweldge of the field, he or she may only be an "average" practictioner therein, while a "great" practitioner would have a much better understanding.

In short - you can't know when you'll need something until you actually need it. And if you don't have it when you actually need it, you won't even know you needed it.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby Yakk » Thu Mar 04, 2010 9:24 pm UTC

navigatr85 wrote:I teach math and physics. Sometimes my students will ask me questions like, "Why do I have to learn this?" or "When am I ever going to use this in real life?" I've wondered those things too, and I've never actually been able to come up with a satisfying answer. Honestly, I think there are a lot of things taught in classrooms that the students won't ever use again after graduation. I still teach all those things, though, because the college requires me to. But I'm wondering why those those topics were put into the required curriculum in the first place.

Ok.
The main example that comes to mind is requiring higher-level math for students who are in a field that's unrelated to math, engineering, or physics. For example, I know a student this semester who's going for a degree in Exercise Science, and she's taking a math class that covers things like domain, range, solving quadratic equations, and so on. The class is required for all Exercise Science students. She's pointed out that she probably won't use any of that stuff in any kind of exercise-related job after she graduates. I agree with her. The realization that she won't use these things ever again has made her VERY unmotivated to learn the concepts in this class.
So, she is never going to want to take human kinesiology courses? She's never going to have a mortgage? She's never going to lose her job and end up starting her own business? She'll never try to read up on human Kin journals?

http://www.unb.ca/fredericton/kinesiolo ... index.html

How do I put this ... if you are someone incapable of even solving a basic quadratic equation, how will you be able to determine if the above apparatus is complete snake-oil or is producing useful information?

Quadratics in particular just happens to be a relatively simple bit of mathematics that you should be able to master using not all that much effort. It ends up being occasionally useful, whenever you take a problem and the math ends up being linear in two factors and you want to invert it.

As a fun question, ask her to describe what units BMI is in. (She should be able to do this in her head, given her major and even a modest amount of science/math literacy). You have a 6'6" person and a 4'6" person, both with the same BMI of "marginally overweight" -- what would they look like, shape-wise?

I'm no exercise scientist, but I can answer that question.

Knowledge of what a quadratic is, what a cubic is, dimensional analysis -- all give you an ability to look at something and figure out what is going on.

If you intend to peddle snake oil (or not even know if what you are peddling is snake oil) and/or just do what you are told, you don't need any analytical tools to be able to break down how the world works into bite-sized chunks.
Some of my co-workers have told me that by studying math, students develop the ability to think more logically. They say that, even if the student never uses those math concepts again, they can apply that logical thinking ability to many other aspects of life. But that explanation doesn't satisfy me. What ARE those real-life situations in which highly logical thinking is required? If those situations do exist, wouldn't it'd be better to actually teach those real-life situations in class, along with the math? Or wouldn't it'd be even better to just eliminate the math altogether and just teach those real-life situations?

To a certain extent, sure. Learning those real-life situations would take about 60 years in a natural environment.
You might be thinking that math classes DO talk about real-life situations, in the form of word problems. But every word problem in every higher math class seems to be very contrived. For example, when teaching quadratic equations, teachers often use word problems involving throwing a ball in the air, and determining how long it would take for the ball to hit the ground. But the average person isn't going to come upon a situation in everyday life in which they'll need to calculate something like that.

Yes, quadratic equations are pretty darn simple.

You could teach them how to solve the mortgage equation, which involves dealing with polynomials of degree N?
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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby Chen » Fri Mar 05, 2010 1:11 pm UTC

sikyon wrote:Unless you actually want to become a teacher, it is unlikly that your teacher can tell you when you would need to something in your career field. You are confusing the fact that your teacher is more experienced than you to mean that your teacher knows everything. They may very well know nothing about the field, even with an education therein (work is far different from school). Even if your teacher had specific knoweldge of the field, he or she may only be an "average" practictioner therein, while a "great" practitioner would have a much better understanding.

In short - you can't know when you'll need something until you actually need it. And if you don't have it when you actually need it, you won't even know you needed it.


My point is, when children are learning, this logic is not going to be forefront in their mind. Perhaps teachers SHOULD know what uses the subject they are teaching will have for future careers. I mean a legitimate question to ask in high school is "Why do I need to know how to factor polynomials?" Without a satisfactory answer it can be difficult to motivate someone to be concerned about it, especially if its a subject they find "hard".

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby sikyon » Fri Mar 05, 2010 5:06 pm UTC

My point is, when children are learning, this logic is not going to be forefront in their mind. Perhaps teachers SHOULD know what uses the subject they are teaching will have for future careers. I mean a legitimate question to ask in high school is "Why do I need to know how to factor polynomials?" Without a satisfactory answer it can be difficult to motivate someone to be concerned about it, especially if its a subject they find "hard".


Frankly if they arn't motivated by this logic, then they shouldn't be studying the extra subjects. It is unlikely that such study will be more productive for them than a more concentrated focus, and they are less likely to wish to apply such extra knowledge to their jobs even if they do have it. Children are very much responsible for their futures - their formative years are critical in their future development, but by the same token without this formative maturity they are at a disadvantage (compared to adults). It is their responsibility to take an interest, to have ambitions and to work towards their goals. They can be helped by parents and teachers, but intrisnically it is their responsibility because it impacts them.


There is no foolproof child logic arguement that will make all children suddenly want to learn about everything. Sometimes, you have to give them the best support you can but allow them to take it the rest of the way.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby Kizyr » Fri Mar 05, 2010 5:19 pm UTC

achan1058 wrote:Anyways, one real use of high school math that everyone should know is probability and statistics. (and we do teach them in Canada, though I don't know about the States) Unless the student does not intend to gamble, play bridge, poker, etc. what-so-ever, probability would serve them well. Statistics is also important, seeing how they appear on the newspapers all the time. (often in ways that intend to mislead you) And of course, to do these well, you need some amount of algebra background.

Probability is more useful for applications other than gambling and playing games. A lot of real-life decisions rest on probabilistic calculations (should I invest my money in this fund or that one, should I get a health plan with an HSA or without, etc. etc.). But yes, I do agree that both are extremely useful aspects of mathematics.

As for using them every day... I'm a statistician so, I tend to use math a bit more than the average person. Calculus comes up in my job as well, and all of that rests of the foundation of basic algebra.

Besides specific applications, there's also the idea of education for its own sake. And at the high school level, before most people know what they want to do with their life, not teaching them things just because they may never use them severely limits their options later in life. KF
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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby bio_nerd08 » Fri Mar 05, 2010 6:05 pm UTC

I've wondered this a lot myself. Being a biology major I have to take some higher math classes and I've always wondered how calculus would apply to my future. My dad has always said that classes like that are to expand your capacity for learning. I suppose if you can learn calculus you can learn whatever math you will actually need for your future. :|

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby Yakk » Fri Mar 05, 2010 6:24 pm UTC

bio_nerd08 wrote:I've wondered this a lot myself. Being a biology major I have to take some higher math classes and I've always wondered how calculus would apply to my future. My dad has always said that classes like that are to expand your capacity for learning. I suppose if you can learn calculus you can learn whatever math you will actually need for your future. :|

Diffusion rates in a bajillion different situations should require differential equations, which require calculus.

If you want to do any biological modelling of component parts, like Neurons, you are going to need lots of calculus.

If you are going to model biochemistry, you are doing to need an assload of calculus.

If you want to be able to build quantitatively predictive models of any kind, you are going to need both calculus and what comes after calculus.

What speciality are you planning on entering that you will never have to deal with the concept of "slope of change"? I'm curious!
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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby Jahoclave » Sat Mar 06, 2010 9:40 am UTC

Hell, our English Society won a trivia contest because we didn't fail at math. So, knowing math is important if you ever want to win fabulous prizes.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby Game_boy » Sat Mar 06, 2010 9:48 pm UTC

School, and most maths/science qualifications, aren't intended to show you know the precise definitions and formulas in the syllabus, but to prove that you can handle quantitative data in a logical way, understand how numbers relate to the modelled situation and vice versa, and demonstrate the ability to be exposed to a large amount of information and select and apply the relevant portions. In other words, the ability to learn the job you do end up doing when you get there.

Because the latter skills are those you need for an decision making job, which is what most science-degree graduates end up in. Whether the flavour of that decision making is engineering, management or something else, a lot of jobs need that.
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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby lu6cifer » Sun Mar 07, 2010 3:42 am UTC

I think this article might shed some light on the subject
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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby soraos21 » Tue Mar 09, 2010 4:43 am UTC

As a student in highschool, I find myself asking, in my mind, when am I going to use this? The jobs I have in mind aren't ones that require a lot of learning, like putting together a sandwich or a bouquet. One of my classmates has asked when they're going to need to know the volume of a cylinder or a prism and the teacher replied, "Well... let's say you work in a cannery. When filling the cans, you'll want to do it at the least cost to you, which is where volume comes in." And I thought to myself, "Seriously? We'll need VOLUME to figure out COST?! WTF?!?!" Plus, the way we're being taught today doesn't help me get a career. Let's say I get a diploma. That's not gonna help me get anywhere anytime soon. So, I go to college. Then, I'll have all the "necessary" education to get a job, right? Apparently, wrong. My mom, who went to college and is a certified M.A.( Medical Assistant), can't get a job relevant OR irrelevant to her degree. The only people who have thought of hiring her are the people who run a quilting shop(which she's good at, btw). So, what needs to be changed? The way school is taught, of course! I'm talking about downgrading the educational system to a mehod that's been tried and proved to be effective: Hands-on learning. If you want to be a tailor, you go and learn from the nearest tailor the tricks of the trade. Or if you want to be a blacksmith, you go talk to and learn from a blacksmith. It's very hard to learn smithing from a cook or tailor. It's a simple, yet EFFECTIVE, way to teach someone something.
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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby soraos21 » Tue Mar 09, 2010 4:53 am UTC

Besides... 80% of what you learn is outside the classroom. That means you learn more talking with your friends than with the teacher. If anyone wants to dispute this, feel free to do so.
All things, even those you know not of, are point of view. Public acceptance is subjugation and so is individuality. Neutrality is the only path...neither publicly accepted nor individual. Enjoy your hidden slavery.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby xepher » Tue Mar 09, 2010 2:50 pm UTC

Didn't Pythagoras or Euclid or whoever once say to a student who asked a similar question,

"Give the kid a penny, because he thinks that he should profit from every lesson he goes to."
or a few words to that extent.

I remember reading that somewhere.
I also remember reading that math, specifically "pure" math, is not practical in most everyday applications. People do it for the thrill of discovery.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby Yakk » Tue Mar 09, 2010 3:20 pm UTC

soraos21 wrote:As a student in highschool, I find myself asking, in my mind, when am I going to use this? The jobs I have in mind aren't ones that require a lot of learning, like putting together a sandwich or a bouquet.

So you want to work for min. wage for the rest of your life?
One of my classmates has asked when they're going to need to know the volume of a cylinder or a prism and the teacher replied, "Well... let's say you work in a cannery. When filling the cans, you'll want to do it at the least cost to you, which is where volume comes in." And I thought to myself, "Seriously? We'll need VOLUME to figure out COST?! WTF?!?!"

Yes. You'll need to know volume to figure out cost.
Plus, the way we're being taught today doesn't help me get a career. Let's say I get a diploma. That's not gonna help me get anywhere anytime soon.

Lacking a high school diploma can easily make an employer pass you over in a "you don't have skills for this job, why should I pick you instead of some other unskilled bum?" situation.

If you already have expertise and experience in a field, the high school diploma will matter less. Until, for example, you decide to try to change your job description slightly.
So, I go to college. Then, I'll have all the "necessary" education to get a job, right? Apparently, wrong. My mom, who went to college and is a certified M.A., can't get a job relevant OR irrelevant to her degree.

A masters of arts? Certified? If I'm reading that right, yes, your mother chose an obscure and academic subject to get her masters in.
The only people who have thought of hiring her are the people who run a quilting shop(which she's good at, btw). So, what needs to be changed?

If you pick a subject, like literature, for which there is little employment in, and you aren't ridiculously good at it and hard working at trying to get a job in it, you aren't likely to get a job in it. University still offers the courses.

Now, there are jobs adjacent to a masters in literature that are more common: a librarian or archivist, for example.

Education does not guarantee employment in the field you get education in.
The way school is taught, of course!

... assuming she has a M.A. in literature, she probably knows lots about literature. This might not prove useful in whatever job she gets, but it wasn't as if it was secret when she was getting the degree.

Then again, there are jobs she can do with an M.A. in literature -- the problem is those jobs are highly sought after by other people who love literature as much or more than your mother. This depresses the prices, and moves their locations closer to wherever the clients are.

(Note that literature was an example -- I don't know what your mothers M.A. was in. If she has an M.A. in Accounting, odds are she wouldn't have a problem finding a decent paying job, almost regardless of where she lived. Of course, more people fall in love with literature for the sake of literature than fall in love with Accounting for the sake of Accounting...)
I'm talking about downgrading the educational system to a mehod that's been tried and proved to be effective: Hands-on learning. If you want to be a tailor, you go and learn from the nearest tailor the tricks of the trade. Or if you want to be a blacksmith, you go talk to and learn from a blacksmith. It's very hard to learn smithing from a cook or tailor. It's a simple, yet EFFECTIVE, way to teach someone something.

Strangely, I'm not a tailor, nor a blacksmith, nor a cook. Society doesn't have a shortage of blacksmiths, nor cooks. They might have a modest shortage of tailors, but tailors compete against cheap mass produced goods that can be replaced for less than it would cost someone working at a living wage to repair them. (I suppose someone buying some brand-laden shoes might be very well served by having a tailor repair them, but that person is paying for the logo, not the shoes. And yes, I have gotten shoes repaired -- it isn't all that economical compared to just replacing them when seriously damaged.)

Plus, apprentices are often a bother. At my job, having an unskilled teenager (let alone someone in Jr. High!) hanging around that I'd have to hand tasks off to would probably be anti-productive. And in an office of 40 professionals from age 25 to 65, assuming ZPG in the industry, we'd need 1/5th of the office to be 15-25 year old apprentices (on average), and a 25% larger office!

No thank you -- you are not worth my bother. The damage you'd do with your hands-on learning in a production environment would be greater than the help you'd add, because you simply lack the education to be competent at the job.

And this won't be just true here. Doctors have an apprentice system -- but it starts after 10+ years of post-secondary formal education. From roughly age 5 to 30, the pre-doctor gets formal education in various subjects, then around age 30 they are allowed to be apprentices, and then after a few years of hands-on education, they become full doctors (longer if they proceed to specialise).

Despite the ~25 years of formal education that leads up to that moment, they are still paid crap all and put some burden on the institution where they practice.
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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby TheAmazingRando » Tue Mar 09, 2010 6:00 pm UTC

soraos21 wrote:The way school is taught, of course! I'm talking about downgrading the educational system to a mehod that's been tried and proved to be effective: Hands-on learning. If you want to be a tailor, you go and learn from the nearest tailor the tricks of the trade. Or if you want to be a blacksmith, you go talk to and learn from a blacksmith. It's very hard to learn smithing from a cook or tailor. It's a simple, yet EFFECTIVE, way to teach someone something.
As you may or may not already know, vocational schools exist, as do apprenticeships. It's not like you've just thought of some novel concept that isn't being executed. It IS being executed, and people do it.

Here's the thing: there's a reason the idea of apprenticeship is a more archaic concept. It used to be, mass production simply did not exist. Every town needed a skilled tailor, a blacksmith, etc., etc. There was a widespread need for people skilled at a particular trade, because EVERYBODY relied on them. But how many clothes that you own are tailored?

Labor is cheap, now, and mostly automated. Mass production is the standard because it's far cheaper, and serves far more people. Hand-made goods have become a luxury item, in most cases. Most jobs, especially well-paying jobs, are highly theoretical and require knowledge of mathematics and particular concepts. You aren't going to become a physicist or a biologist by apprenticeship, unless the person you're learning from teaches you all the complex math and theory involved. And, hey, we already have an institution where biologists and physicists and mathematicians can teach the theoretical foundations of their fields: universities.

Not to mention, most people who DO make good money on the sort of trades that could be learned via apprenticeship do so because they own their own business. And, as it turns out, there's a lot of math and economic theory behind running your own business, and you're probably not going to learn that in an apprenticeship.

It's quite possible that many high school students are not going to do anything highly theoretical, but we shouldn't be locking them into that decision when they're 13. Because most people have NO IDEA what they want to do with their life at that age. The best system is to expose them to science and mathematics before they choose whether or not to do anything with it, which is exactly what we're doing right now with high school. And, believe it or not, a lot of people change their minds and decide to go to college.

[quote=soraos21]And I thought to myself, "Seriously? We'll need VOLUME to figure out COST?! WTF?!?!"[/quote]You're treating volume as though it's some esoteric concept. It's an elementary mathematical principle that's used countless times a day for countless applications.

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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby lunchtime.samurai » Sat Mar 13, 2010 11:00 am UTC

I don't see any concievable use for any of the maths I've learnt since I was 11. While I know that it's important to give flexibility, I see no reason why SACE (a certificate of education that allows you to enter university, roughly equivalent to an IB, or possibly a GCSE,) needs me to stuff around doing maths. I've already more or less rendered myself ineligible for a degree in maths/sciences by doing no non-compulsory science/mathematics subjects, so why should I waste my time learning things I'll never need? I learnt more about logic debating than I ever did in Maths, and I only ended up reading a novel behind my textbook anyway.
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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby Poochy » Sat Mar 13, 2010 4:33 pm UTC

One good analogy I've heard for this is that math and science are to real life as lifting weights and doing squats are to playing sports. You may not ever have to use the Taylor series for ex after graduation, but professional baseball players generally don't lift much stuff heavier than a bat, either, and many of them still lift weights. The most important parts are the logical thinking and problem-solving skills than you gain and hone though trying to learn and apply the techniques and formulas you're taught in class. Those skills are critical to everyday life, much like lifting weights gives you more muscle, which allows you to hit the ball harder in baseball.

Also, once you've learned the basics, continuing to grind away at it won't do you much good, while trying the harder content without the basics will just leave you stumped - if you already know your multiplication tables like the back of your hand, drills aren't gonna help much more, but if you don't know your multiplication tables, multivariable calculus will probably give you a headache. Much like weight training - once you've gained some muscle, lifting a 1-kilogram weight isn't going to build any more muscle, but if you don't have much muscle to begin with, trying to bench-press 300 pounds is just asking for a hernia.
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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby achan1058 » Sat Mar 13, 2010 6:40 pm UTC

lunchtime.samurai wrote:I don't see any concievable use for any of the maths I've learnt since I was 11. While I know that it's important to give flexibility, I see no reason why SACE (a certificate of education that allows you to enter university, roughly equivalent to an IB, or possibly a GCSE,) needs me to stuff around doing maths. I've already more or less rendered myself ineligible for a degree in maths/sciences by doing no non-compulsory science/mathematics subjects, so why should I waste my time learning things I'll never need? I learnt more about logic debating than I ever did in Maths, and I only ended up reading a novel behind my textbook anyway.
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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby Mokele » Sat Mar 13, 2010 7:07 pm UTC

Poochy wrote:One good analogy I've heard for this is that math and science are to real life as lifting weights and doing squats are to playing sports. You may not ever have to use the Taylor series for ex after graduation, but professional baseball players generally don't lift much stuff heavier than a bat, either, and many of them still lift weights. The most important parts are the logical thinking and problem-solving skills than you gain and hone though trying to learn and apply the techniques and formulas you're taught in class. Those skills are critical to everyday life, much like lifting weights gives you more muscle, which allows you to hit the ball harder in baseball.


To be a bit of a Devil's Advocate, I'm not sure I buy that line of reasoning with mathematics for two reasons:

1) Math isn't the only way to learn such problem solving, far from it. Personally, I learned a lot more problem solving skills from my physics and chemistry courses than from math.

2) IME, math isn't taught in a way that emphasizes problem solving, even at high levels. For most people, it's plug-and-chug - either you have the right formula memorized and can apply it without thinking, or you don't. I'm not saying math teaching *can't* be beyond that, but rather that there's a huge gap between ideal methods and actual implementation, especially at the high school and lower college level.
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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby Yakk » Sat Mar 13, 2010 9:34 pm UTC

It is true you can choose to not learn Math, by say not learning it and reading novels instead. That is consistent.

And, if you choose to not learn math, you won't be able to use it later in life. That is consistent.

You won't fall over dead (at least immediately in most situations) from failing to learn math.

You will probably end up with a worse mortgage, a lower paying job, less freedom, less choice, an inability to determine if entire categories of important statements are the truth or a lie, etc.

There are entire careers that don't use much math or science education. They tend to be harder to get into at the same wage level, or less financially rewarding given fixed "pain in the assness", luck, talent and effort.

But the world needs peons. (And yes, not all jobs that someone who is mathematically illiterate are peon jobs -- it is just that you are far more likely to end up as a peon if you are mathematically illiterate).

So read that novel instead of studying math. Oh, and how would you like a no money down, no interest for 6 months deal on this fridge? Pay no attention to the mathematical small print. I'm sure it isn't important.
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Re: "When am I going to use this?"

Postby Poochy » Sun Mar 14, 2010 12:47 am UTC

Mokele wrote:1) Math isn't the only way to learn such problem solving, far from it. Personally, I learned a lot more problem solving skills from my physics and chemistry courses than from math.

And lifting weights isn't the only way to build muscle, either.
2) IME, math isn't taught in a way that emphasizes problem solving, even at high levels. For most people, it's plug-and-chug - either you have the right formula memorized and can apply it without thinking, or you don't. I'm not saying math teaching *can't* be beyond that, but rather that there's a huge gap between ideal methods and actual implementation, especially at the high school and lower college level.

I actually do have to agree with this somewhat. Math is far too often taught as plug-and-chug, and far too many math and science teachers assign homework which consist of essentially the exact same problem with different constants 10 times in a row. I consider this kind of teaching to be completely missing the point, and the mathematical equivalent of my aforementioned analogy to lifting 1kg repeatedly when you already have a bunch of muscle. But it doesn't make math irrelevant to daily life, just the classes that teach it that way, and the analogy is about math skills, not math classes.
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