When teaching mathematics to high school students, I have often heard them complain, saying things like, “Why do we have to learn this?” or “How will this help us after we graduate from high school?” The misconception of the importance of mathematics for high school students resides in their inability to project the skills that they use in class into real life, and this often stems from unrealistic or “silly” examples in math textbooks or on practice sheets. Here are some reasons why math is useful after high school:
1. Critical Thinking Skills
Math is more than specific examples in textbooks. The practice of using critical thinking skills to analyze open ended math problems is a life skill that is necessary in many career paths. The process of creating a plan to solve a large scale situational problem can be applied to variety of tasks, such as planning an event, or applying for a grant.
2. Problem Solving
Moreover, part of critical thinking skills is figuring out how to attack a problem, which in turn allows you to solve the problem. There are problems to be solved in every career, and the more efficiently you solve the problems presented to you, the better your performance at your job will be.
3. More career paths use mathematics than you think
Math is useful in more career paths than you would think. Any career that involves money, or budgeting uses mathematics. You can reference weusemath.org to see a list of careers that use mathematics on an everyday basis. Furthermore, if you think of employing critical thinking and problem solving as using math, most careers involve math on an everyday basis.
4. Basic life skills
Knowing how to perform simple mental math skills is more efficient than relying on calculators and computers to compute simple math equations. The confidence exuded from being comfortable with arithmetic can both impress employers and peers in the work sector. Moreover, this self reliance will be useful on the go or if you do not have access to a calculator or computer.
BOTTOM LINE: The study of mathematics is more than very specific problems that must be solved on paper. The language and the process of solving mathematics has a lot to teach about critical thinking and abstract ways to solve problems. Additionally, being able to confidently work with numbers can ease worry when dealing with money in the future. I hope that the future of teaching high school mathematics lessens the divide between real life and coursework and that students stop asking “when will we ever use this?,” and until then, I can only promise that success in math can lead to so many other things, besides a mathematics major in CEGEP or university.