Thinking Outside the Box

Being a veteran tutor at the Hut, I have heard my fair share of
questions from students. One of the most common questions I hear,
especially with math, is some form of the question, “when will I EVER
use this again?” As a trained engineer and eternal student of math and
science I do my best to explain to those college-bound kids that there
is more to it than meets the eye.

It’s hard for kids to understand that when they practice math that
they are learning a language. And as far as languages go, this is much
more complex than learning how to conjugate verbs in Spanish or
memorize French vocabulary. Learning to understand mathematics
comprehensively takes years beyond what a typical 18 year old has
under their belt. What your kids are doing is getting the basics
driven into them until solving an equation becomes as second nature to
them as dribbling a basketball is to Kobe Bryant. As you study more
math it becomes more and more complex, stretching your mind to think in different ways to solve a new problem or understand a new concept, just as pumping iron will leave you sore the next day.

What I want to stress is that our society will always need technical
expertise. But that’s not to say that we need number crunchers,
accountants or statisticians to make the world a better place. What we
do need is creative thinkers that are interested changing the way
things work and inventors that are not satisfied with the status quo.
When your kids say that being a scientist would be boring or that
nobody would be their friend if they declare themselves a math major,
remind them that these people are not just nerds. They are problem
solvers, and people that solve problems think outside of the box. They
must be creative in order to solve the complex problems that our
society demands.

So when your kids tell you that math is worthless and they’ll never
use it again I strongly urge you to ask them a few questions. Ask them
to think about their day to day lives and list all of the technology
they use. The video games that they spend hours if not days trying to
beat are all thanks to people that studied mathematics and science for
several years. That cell phone they’re always texting their friends
on? Throw that out the window if it weren’t for the scientific genius
of the 20th century. How about that car they want to drive? If it’s
made in the last decade it’s almost as much computer as it is engine.
If your son or daughter hates their math class or is struggling with
their chemistry homework it’s important to let them know that, yes, it
can be difficult, but no, it is not impossible. It’s even more
important to let them know that they can really do something with this
beyond their current assignment. They may not change their opinion
about their teacher or their assignment, but at least they can know
that it’s not worthless.

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