My students often ask me about maths: “Why do I have to study this? I’m never going to use it again in my life after I leave school?” I’ve tried all sorts of answers to this question, such as suggesting that they may end up in a field like IT, medicine, science or engineering, but they quickly shoot that down.
So I say that maths is about problem solving and that’s a skill that will serve them well in whatever they end up doing with their lives. Cue the eye rolls. So I say that the mental discipline involved in maths is great practice for learning how to persevere through difficult circumstances in any areas of life they will inevitably encounter down the track.
More eye rolls so I try again, this time taking a more specific, practical application, informing them that most jobs these days involve ongoing training and development. This means that they will have to quickly familiarise themselves with new information, concepts and rules and display an ability to apply those ideas and rules to different circumstances and make decisions accordingly. This I tell them, is exactly like maths!
Pleasingly the eye rolls have morphed into a dumbfounded expression and I feel like I’ve finally made a meaningful connection. Having established some real-world relevance for the much maligned maths I soldier on, explaining the many things that wouldn’t happen without maths: cars wouldn’t run, spaceships wouldn’t work, phones wouldn’t function, and most diabolically of all – computer games wouldn’t even exist!
The latter point of course causes all sorts of consternation and I watch carefully as the internal thought processes quietly elevate maths from a painful nuisance and constant source of irritation to something of greater import and significance, something that provides daily utility and entertainment, something that we simply could not live without.