The things students ask!
“Sir…. When will I ever need to use Pythagoras?”
A line taken from the adverts for the upcoming Educating Cardiff.
Ok, in this case it was Pythagoras, but I’m sure that we can replace it with any number of mathematical terms:
The most common one of course,
“Miss, why do we need to know about algebra? When will I ever need it?”
Or my two, not so common, but definitely my favourite, statements
“Miss, what if the cure for cancer is waiting to fill the part of my brain where surds are clogging up valuable space!”
“Miss why do we bother estimating l don’t understand why don’t we just work out the real answer!”
Then the ubiquitous
“Miss why do we have to write words in maths lessons , we are not in English…”
Over the years, we have all been asked permutations of these questions.
The answers that satisfy most students ofcourse relate mathematical concepts and conundrums to real life scenarios.
So Pythagoras and trigonometry, when I tell students that a builder friend uses both every day, students often start to mellow as they can see where it might actually be useful ! ( their words, not mine)
Algebra, my favourite challenge. I usually give calculating wages as my example where I use algebraic substitution. Students, in my experience, are happier when they can relate things to financial recompense. I use a proportion example where 10 bananas cost 80p what would 2 bananas cost? And I manipulate my explanation accordingly.
Estimation, in real life, is finding an answer that is close enough, we don’t need the exact answer, so if we are in a hurry, a rough answer will be Ok. The best use of estimation that satisfies my students’ need for a reason, once again is financial, being able to roughly calculate the cost of something prior to paying. I’ve got to admit to having wandered around a supermarket estimating the cost of the bill by rounding to 50p or £1, I know others have done it.
I use a virtual shopping starter where I flash up some goods and their prices and ask students to estimate the cost of the bill. I tell students that we are having a Spaghetti Bolognese for dinner and we need to go shopping. We have £10 in our purse , will we have enough buy the ingredients. The starter is long enough, and is a realistic task. After asking for white board estimates , we then all estimate the cost in real time. Once again putting this into. a real life scenario , students accept that maybe, only maybe, maths might be useful, only a little bit useful , but useful nonetheless.
Surds occupying the part of the brain where the cure for cancer could be is a little bit more difficult to justify but I have only been asked that once.