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Author's profile photo Matthew Young

When Will I Ever Need to Know This?

The question that I hear as an educator–the one thing I am asked more than any other question–is “When will I ever need to know this?” For some questions, the answer is really easy. For others, I need to take a step back and think.

I like to answer my students honestly when they ask this question. It’s not always appropriate to stop class and give an answer at that moment, but I always try to find a time where I can speak with the student to let them know. When I need to step back and think about it myself is most likely when that student needs an answer the most.

And it’s when I am most likely to try and improve myself as a teacher.

Because when a question like this is asked, and I don’t have an answer, is it worth my time to teach it? Is it worth my students’ time to learn it?

Sometimes, the answer is yes. If Common Core or my district demands that something be taught, I will teach it. But sometimes, that’s not the case. Sometimes we teach things because we think we should. We haven’t taken a step back and put the thought into it.

For all of the criticism that newer standards have received, this is one area where they thrive. Things that are done within the classroom should hold up to the scrutiny of research. If I am going to do something or teach something, it should be backed up by evidence that it works.

Innovations within the classroom must have evidence for success. Otherwise, students are just guinea pigs. However, research in many areas indicates that a sense of purpose improves performance. In my classroom, I have a lot of anecdotal evidence to back this up. When students understand that school is not just about tests and homework, that it’s a training ground for life, they begin to feel free to explore material, take risks with their answers, and ask more questions. School still has all of the boring required stuff, but there’s more meaning to the students. In the end, they learn far more when they’re actually invested in the material. That holds true of technology class, English, Algebra, or any other subject I’ve taught.

As a teacher, I have no idea what the future is going to bring. I’m not sure what will change with technology, or with society in general. I have an obligation to prepare my students so that whatever situation they face, they will have a chance of success. There are state and district standards that must be upheld, of course, but even within these, there is a lot of freedom to ensure that the material is going to be helpful and relevant for students. It takes extra time to prepare lessons in this manner, but ultimately, it is far better for the student to be confident and able.

On a final note, I am interested in what the research says on this. Google Scholar only reveals a handful of case studies indicating that confidence toward the future helps improve standardized test results. I would agree with this wholeheartedly based on my anecdotal evidence. Far more research is needed in this direction, though.

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      Author's profile photo Michelle Crapo
      Michelle Crapo

      Oh boy - a deep question on a Friday.   Or is it a non-question.

      I worry about the things being taught and NOT taught today..    There are some basic problem solving skills that are lacking.   But that wasn't really what this blog was about.

      I feel that testing isn't a great answer.   There are people out there that know the course data inside and out.   Those people freeze on a test.   But we must have tools to gage how well the material has been learned.

      I guess I cringe at standardized testing.   Unless that standardize test changes based on what the student is actually learning.   Sometimes it feels like half the course is preparing for the test.   That is never a good thing as you have to apply the knowledge or it isn't worth anything.   How about some practical tests on what is actually normally taught.   Questions that deal with real life issues.   Ah but now it isn't subjective and someone has to take a lot of time to read the answers.

      As a person who was hired out of college, and one who at times gives the interviews.   I have a hard time with someone who can't problem solve but can tell me about a text books.   So now you've studied half the time on the text book.   Oh boy!   Now they have trouble with the interview.

      Not so much of an answer as a rant.   I was lucky enough in my academics to have professors that truly cared about more than "standard" tests.   But I am getting to be a dinosaur.

      Now for the question - would I dig in and answer it.    Well if it was important enough for them to ask then it is important for me to try to find the answer.  (It can't always be done.)

      Now that I've written a blog - thank you for this timely blog..    It comes in the time of "the millennial" .  The horror.   If they are interesting - that is half the battle.

      When will I need this?  Simple answer - knowledge is never wasted.   And it isn't.   Calculus - my son happily tells me no more math classes in college for him.   I tell him about the problem solving tools he know has when something is hard.

      And you thought I was done!

      Have a good one,