Monday, November 29, 2010

Why do we have to learn this?

I recently read a post on a teacher listserve and had such a strong reaction that it inspired me to post on my blog after a long break.

A chemistry teacher was soliciting advice from the members of the listserve on how to answer the question, "Why do we have to learn this?" from a student. Apparently a student turned in a recent quiz without attempting any of the questions and only wrote this sentiment at the top. I understand that this would be incredibly frustrating for a teacher, but the condescension and bitterness in the teacher's post are what struck me most and gave me the push to put my thoughts into writing.

Without addressing the specific chemistry topic (molarity and pH), of which I can think of numerous applications and relevant reasons as to why students must master these concepts, I'd like to address the fundamental question of "why do we have to learn this?"

If we want our students to succeed and we want our students to excel in science, or any subject, the content must feel relevant to their lives at that moment. And we as educators must have a compelling answer as to why it is important to master the concept. If a teacher is unable to articulate the specific reason why a concept is important, then perhaps that teacher should be asking himself or herself why that concept was prioritized in the curriculum.

Science especially lends itself to relevant connections to the everyday world. Chemistry has a profound impact on our daily quality of life including the foods we eat, the reactions taking place in our bodies that keep us alive, the quality of the water we drink and the air we breath, and the way we power our vehicles, homes, and businesses. I'm advocating for a more profound - and respectful - answer to the question, "why do we have to learn this?"