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When Students ask, "Why Do We Need to Know This? When Will I Ever Use This?"
from: The Middle School Chatboard
http://teachers.net/mentors/middle_school
Posted by Sci Teach:
How do you respond to questions such as "Why do we need to know this?" I always give the most stupid answers to these questions because I honestly don't know.
One thing I say is, "To broaden your experience and to know if you enjoy something or not so that you can make wise college and career decisions." Unfortunately, middle schoolers aren't looking that far in advance and that response means nothing to them.
Currently we are studying Astronomy in 6th grade. What kind of response would you give a kid who asked "Why do we need to know about planets?" Other than state standards and the possibility that they may someday read space.com and want to understand it, I don't know. Before I taught science I never needed to know much about the planets.
Some responses:
Posted by middle school teacher:
I admire your point of view. Many teachers do not question the standards. The standards as written in every state represent a compromise between the many, many people who had input on them and I see many things in our state's standards and my subject's national standards that are just plain silly.
I find though that if I teach the topic in a creative enough way, I don't get those questions. The planets can be fascinating. It also helps to make it a short unit. I tend to spend more time on those topics that are engaging of the interest of middle schoolers and less on those that clearly don't work for them. It's also true that I teach best what is fascinating to me rather than what popped into the minds of the standards writers.
I can answer students honestly  these things are in the standards. In this state, it's thought you need to know this. Now let's get back to work and we'll master this as efficiently as we can.
Posted by Ambra:
It really helps to know why you are teaching it before you begin the lesson. In your planning stages, make it part of your routine to come up with a purpose statement. Brainstorm and think of all of the ways the information you are presenting can come in useful in life. What sorts of skills do the students practice when learning this topic? If all else fails, you can usually respond with, "Learning about our planets will help you to be an educated, informed member of society." Some of the most amazing discoveries have come about by people questioning what was taught to them.
Posted by DET:
Why do I need algebra?
Algebra is a critical "gateway" subject for many reasons. First of all, algebra is the gateway to all the higher maths: geometry, algebra II, trigonometry, analytic geometry, calculus and beyond. Since all sciences (including biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, engineering, computer science, architecture, design, many social sciences, economics, finance, even flying an airplane!) depend on algebra and higher math, learning algebra is essential for anyone considering working in these fields.
Aside from that, learning the abstract reasoning skills that algebra teaches helps students become better abstract reasoners in general. Good abstract reasoning skills improve a student's ability to write a coherent essay, for example, since essays require the writer to shift back and forth between abstract concepts and specific supporting facts. Many life skills, including choosing a career, making major purchases, running a business, and managing a family also require reasoning skills that are improved by math study.
Also, California schools now require that students pass an exit exam in order to graduate with a diploma from high school. The math portion of this exam relies heavily on algebra concepts learned in middle school and high school.
In addition, success in algebra correlates highly with success in higher education. Algebra and further math are critical to a student's chance of attending university. This was well documented in a 1990 study by the College Board. In this study, researchers found that students who take a year of algebra and follow that with a year of geometry nearly double their chances of going to college  by doing that alone!
Beyond this direct correlation, students should be aware that the two college entrance exams, the SAT and the ACT, are loaded with algebra I questions. It is impossible to get a decent score on these exams' math sections without a solid grasp of algebra.
This is why we study algebra.
P.S. And I think it's fun!
