Question Detail

When teaching abstract math concepts to high schoolers, what do you tell a student who says "I'm never going to use this"?

Apr 24, 2018 8:03pm

  • 9-12
  • Behavior / Class Culture / Engagement


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    • May 15, 2018 2:18pm

      I always tell students they are too young to know what they will or will not sue in life! And that even as an adult I still find times when I am needing to use something that I learned about in high school. You can type up a list of careers that use math - maybe even find one online. From sales to engineering, computer science, physics, car racing, medicine, etc - the list could be never ending!

      Someone asked a similar question about how to respond to students who claim to "not be a math person". I responded with the following which I think holds true for "I'm never going to us this" comments too.

      "Great question and something I have certainly heard a lot from students. I like to tell them stories about myself - how I used to think running the mile in PE when I was younger was the worst thing in the world because I just "wasn't a runner". As I got older I decided to give running a chance and even though I am not winning races, I enjoy running, set goals for myself, and worked hard at it so that I could eventually run a marathon. Kids love personal stories, and for this one the moral is that we are all capable of doing anything, we just have to try harder in some areas than others.

      As far as teaching practices go, it has helped me when writing word problems to make them as relevant as I can to the students interests and lives. I use the names of students in my class in word problems, relate topics to real life situations as much as possible, play games and do projects. This makes math both more fun and more relatable to students.

      Also when assigning homework, class work or even when writing tests or other assessments, it helps to always start with a "winner" problem, (one that is easy/basic/simple, or a review problem) so that students don't get bogged down or stuck on the first problem. It gives them a confidence boost to start off with something that is very doable."

      • May 18, 2018 9:15am

        You can say, "you may never have to use this type of mathematics, but you will have the foundational knowledge in case you may ever want to use it"
        -riding a bike, learned it as a child, may never need to use it again, but will be ready in case you ever need to (or use other examples)

        A great way to get students engaged is to--
        -give them a bit of historical perspective on the mathematics and/or mathematicians, Why was this math ever created anyway? Who?
        -use videos and/or guest speakers to help student make connections to how this mathematics is used in the real-world, Who or where is this mathematics used in real world situations? How does modern technology take the burden off tedious calculations?

        And remember, mathematics is not only the manipulating of numbers and symbols. Remind students, and offer real-world examples, of how mathematics thinking and reasoning is the gatekeeper to any of the STEM fields. Show great, motivating videos to engage students. check out: in this website above.
        And look for "humans need not apply" in you tube.
        It may change their perspective on how mathematics knowledge is foundational in our future. Don't worry....You will do great!
        If you'd like to continue our conversation, please email me at: