‘Why do I have to learn this? I’m never going to use this stuff!’

Becky & Bob Barnes

(Rockwall / Heath) August 25, 2013 – As the school year gets underway and your child is doing math homework, you may as well get ready for the question: “Why do I have to learn this?  I’m never going to use this stuff!” This argument generally starts around the algebra level, but you may have heard it at earlier grade levels.

Strong math skills can lead to very successful careers. According to Forbes’ “The 15 Most Valuable College Majors,” the most valuable fields require strong math skills: Biomedical Engineering, Biochemistry, Computer Science, Software Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Civil Engineering, Geology, Management Information Systems, Petroleum Engineering, Applied Mathematics, Construction Management, Finance, Physics, Statistics, and the list goes on.

Younger students usually don’t know what they will eventually want to pursue, so the answer to that question can be something as simple as, “you should learn math so you can choose what you want to do when you grow up.”  With younger children it is not as difficult to explain the usefulness of math. We need to be able to make change from a dollar. We should be able to calculate how much of a bargain we are receiving on an item. It is important to be able to measure a board before cutting it or the amount of flour needed in a recipe.

If your older student shows no interest in one of the many math-related fields, why does he/she need to learn it? The vast majority of students should take Algebra 1 and Geometry, if for no other reason than for the further development of their brains. Algebra (which means “the reunion of broken parts”) is all about puzzles, patterns and logical thinking. Geometry (which means “measurement of the earth”) is all about spatial reasoning and logical processes. The basics learned in Algebra 1 and Geometry will be used for a lifetime. These basics are used in business, construction, manufacturing, landscaping, product design, investing and personal finances, machining, drafting, and fine art. In actuality, the higher one goes in most careers, the more likely a good grasp of these concepts will be necessary.

With a strong foundation in Algebra 1 and Geometry, higher level Mathematics courses like Algebra 2, Trigonometry, and Calculus will be less intimidating. When students make the transition from concrete arithmetic to the symbolic language of Algebra, they develop abstract reasoning skills necessary to excel in today’s world. Even though the algorithms learned may not be used in their daily lives, these thinking processes will be crucial.

So, if you are asked about the relevancy of math from your older child, you can simply say, “because you’ll need them for the SAT or ACT to get into a decent college no matter what you want to study,” or you could use the question as an opportunity to have a conversation about our brain, thought development, goals and aspirations, and life in general. What a wonderful way to take a simple, common question and turn it into a teachable moment!


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By Blue Ribbon News special contributors Bob and Becky Barnes with Mathnasium Learning Center, 919 E. Interstate 30, Suite 126 in Rockwall. Email  rockwall-heath@mathnasium.com or visit mathnasium.com/rockwall-heath.  

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