When will I ever use quadratic equations in my “real” life?
As an Algebra teacher – this question came up every year in my classroom.
And every year, my off-the-cuff answer would change.
1st Year Teacher (ambitious and full of ideas): In such cool applications as Physics and object trajectories (like shooting out of a cannon!), economics and optimization, area problems and fence building, and so much more!
3rd Year Teaching (beginning to build my teaching rhythm): You’ll really need to understand them when you get to Algebra II and beyond. I mean – it is the foundation for all polynomial studies! Just trust me. You need to learn them.
6th Year Teaching (maybe a bit of cynicism setting in): Let’s be honest – you probably won’t. But that isn’t the point. Learning quadratics is a fantastic mental exercise and builds critical thinking skills. The mathematician in me believes they are beautiful.
This progression of answers may seem backwards to you and my last answer wasn’t all that popular with many students (and maybe a few parents too). It goes against the idea that everything we learn in school should be for a specific purpose.
How we answer questions like these depends on what we view as being most important in the purpose of schools as a whole.
For many, the logic is that younger grades prepare you for older grades, older grades prepare you for the university level, and higher ed prepares you for a job.
This seems reasonable.
Others might argue that in today’s environment of accountability, the reality is that what you learn today prepares you for the tests you will take at the end of the year. The tests will make sure that you are ready for next year. Next year, you get prepared for another set of tests!
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
What if the real purpose of school wasn’t about preparing for jobs or creating an informed electorate?
What if was simply about learning fun stuff, absorbing as many ideas as possible, and seeking answers to challenging questions?
My ideal purpose of schools and formal education is to expose students to as many ideas, topics, and challenges as possible. The end results (achievement tests) and the specific curriculum covered isn’t nearly as important as the learning experiences along the way.
The rest will then fall in to place.
What I am saying, especially to all of my friends and former colleagues in the midst of another stressful round of heavy state testing – do not forget that all of those great lessons, activities, and projects you did with your students this school year are way more important than any test results or grades.
Leave a comment below with your ideal purpose, or any relevant thoughts you might have!
Image: Quadratic Equations from Bigstock