Answering "When am I Ever Going to Use This?"

UGH. When am I ever going to use this?

As math teachers, we hear that question often. That question used to give me a knot in my stomach. First, I would think "kid, I don't know your life". Second, I didn't always know how every topic is useful either! I knew that pretty much everything was needed for calculus and calculus drives the world, but how do you explain that to algebra students that don't care?

Why do I have to learn this? It's a common question for math teachers. However, these tips and tricks from experienced teachers will help you answer this age old question.

My first teaching experience wasn't easy for me. I never planned on teaching, so I had a math degree with zero education/teaching classes. Through a turn of events, I ended up teaching remedial math classes as an adjunct at a local university. I was young and half of my students were way older than I was. I had a group of boys in the back corner that would make inappropriate comments (about me) throughout the class. Cell phones would go off randomly. Most of my students had failed the class the previous semester. I had no textbook. This was before you could find teaching materials on the internet (easily). Now, that would be an easy job, but at the time I was totally unprepared with no safety net. Then, every couple of classes I would hear...UGH, when am I ever going to use this?

At the time, I felt like I needed to give an actual reply. I would give SUPER LAME textbook-style examples. Now, I have several answers to that question, and only half of them are lame. Honestly, when students are learning algebra, the real answer is often "because you need this for calculus", but many students won't make it that far. That doesn't mean algebra is worthless, but it does require a different approach.

Why do I have to learn this? It's a common question for math teachers. However, these tips and tricks from experienced teachers will help you answer this age old question.

So I decided that I needed to make a list of all the answers you can give to the question, "When am I ever going to use this?" in math. Some of these answers are topical, some are sassy, some are borderline inappropriate, and some are wildly helpful. Choose your poison wisely. However, I really wish I had a list like this when I started teaching. Now, a list like this is entertaining and provides ammo for the future.

This list is compiled from many teachers from all over the world. I asked teacher friends and I asked teachers on Facebook and Instagram.

Why do I have to learn math?


Some of these things are not directly usable, but that doesn't make them meaningless. Your favorite football player will never do a squat in a game, so why do a ton in practice? The skills add up to a whole.  - @TheWiredTeacher on Twitter

The thinking you do in algebra prepares your brain for deeper thinking. If we were never challenged, never exposed to a situation where a great deal of thinking is needed, could we?  - Paula R.

You are learning problem-solving skills.

Well, this is used in cryptography so that your WhatsApp messages are not seen by anyone who intercepts your conversation.  - Ricky D.

Well, life is a lot easier with a high school diploma!

The reality is that in an English class you read books, write reports, do projects, and it's not because you'll ever have to have those exact discussions again or give those presentations. Rather, you're building conversation skills and analysis skills, which are undoubtedly useful in everyday life. In math, sure, we may not need to calculate the volume of a pentagonal prism again, but we're building skills like precision, accuracy, strategy, critical thinking, logic, and perseverance, all of which are great skills, regardless of their applications.  - Jessica F.

Well, you need to learn how to follow directions if you want to be able to assemble the Ikea furniture you're going to buy.

Why do I have to learn this? It's a common question for math teachers. However, these tips and tricks from experienced teachers will help you answer this age old question.

You may not use the skill directly, but you will use the thought process or learning procedure.  - Rancie R.

You'll need it next year when you're back in this class because you didn't learn it the first time!

You're developing parts of your brain to build reasoning and problem-solving skills you will use for a lifetime.  - Charley S.

Because you're going to grow up and be a math teacher. I can see the future.

You are exercising your brain and you can actually increase your IQ by using different parts of your brain.  - Alicia G.

It creates synapses in your brain, increases brain connectivity, which increases the strength of your brain, making you a smarter problem solver in all areas of your life.  - @sweetsuzshi on Instagram

Math teaches you how to persevere, how to handle difficult situations that come your way, how to complete a difficult project, and yes, none of those directly relate to math.  - Terrie R.

I'm not teaching you math, I'm teaching you logical thinking. Math is merely the vehicle we're using to get there.

You're right, you may never use most of the math that I teach. However, the hard work and dedication and willingness to try something hard? You'll use that every day.  - Kasey O.

Algebra is like learning the alphabet before learning to read. It is the foundation for many things in science.  - Gigi G.

You mean problem-solving? You'll use it every day of your life.  - @mathallday on Instagram

I never thought I would use it either, but it turns out that by learning math I gave myself a financially secure life.

It's all about understanding the world at large and if you can see how patterns exist and how to make sense of it.  - Chris B.

It is about thinking skills and problems solving skills - things we do on a daily basis. Do I pay my rent with my money or do I spend it on a video game?  - Theresa H.


How do you answer the question for your students?  
Ugh, when am I ever going to use this?
Why do I have to learn math?

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