There is a new online initiative called We Use Math, which is meant to address and answer one of the most common questions that high school students have: when am I ever going to use math in the real world?

The idea behind this project is to motivate students to pursue mathematics-based careers, by helping them understand just how much math actually influences and shapes society. “We Use Math” is extremely well done, and I highly encourage you to check it out and pass it along – especially to any students you know.

Oh, and on a less serious note, there’s also the alternative take on this topic.

Good intent, terrible execution.

I tend to agree that they could have been more practical and provided better examples, but I wouldn’t be so quick to judge the effort. Their first video may not reach the intended audience, but it’s just an introduction. Let’s see where they go with their future videos and content on their site.

I saw this linked on Twitter, and I had to comment. I think this video, while certainly well produced, totally fails to make the point they were seemingly trying to make in the first place. The point of this video, from what I can tell, seems to be to convince high school students that there is practical use of math beyond arithmetic, algebra, Boolean logic, and perhaps a bit of trig. The video then goes on to show a graphic listing a few dozen career fields where advanced mathematics skills are required, but ignores the fact that absolutely none of those career fields are open to those who have only a High School diploma. In fact, the majority of the fields listed require a Master’s degree, and no less than five full-time years of study after high school.

By my estimation, only 2-5% of high school students will ever enter one of the career fields listed in the video, or any other field requiring knowledge of more than basic mathematics. (I’m guessing this based on the fact that only 7% of Americans will earn a Master’s, and even then only some of those will be in a field requiring advanced mathematics.) Am I the only one who finds it a little odd that we in the US continue to force high school students to struggle with advanced mathematics concepts that are utterly impractical for the 95-98% of students that will not go into a field requiring them? Exactly how is that a responsible use of scarce educational resources? Clearly the people interviewed in the video are very articulate and have a great emotional connection to their profession, but that doesn’t change the fact that most high school graduates don’t need to know most of what they’ve been made to learn!

To put it another way: please name one job, requiring only a high school diploma as its basic educational qualification, that could even conceivably require the use of math concepts such as quadratic equations, imaginary numbers, or asymptotes. (Incidentally, all of these are concepts my daughter was expected to learn and understand in her first three years of HS math. I shudder to think about what’s waiting for us in Senior year.) What I’ve found is that teaching math without common applications at the High School level puts most parents in an awful situation, as they’re expected to help their high school students with their homework, covering concepts that 95% of parents haven’t had to think about in 20+ years.

There is, of course, the almost inevitable argument that teaching advanced mathematics concepts at the High School level is necessary to prepare students for those college programs that do require advanced mathematics. If this is the case, then why don’t they just move that part of the curriculum to the first two years of college?

Great thoughts! I have always wondered why we are stuck with a curriculum that is essentially a 100 years old and still expecting it to solve 21st century problems – most of which were caused by the former.

This video has a pretty negative materialistic focus.

Math and engineering is not about money power and working for the man making nuclear weapons to either destroy mankind or bully other countries.

It’s about creating cool things.

The prominence on their web site to salaries and weight towards government jobs is pretty ridiculous.

I love this! Probably the most negative skewed frequently asked question in a classroom! The idea of the website is brilliant ! It is the exact same reason I started my twitter @mathematic_ali …. Nothing is better than learning to love math.

Really great post and video! I think the most important question to answer for math teachers must be just this one. Therefore it is important to make math funny and interesting and relate the math problems to situations around us in our daily life.

Disclosure: I work for Make It Real Learning. However, we have a product that’s relevant to this discussion.

We agree that learners need to connect math to real life. We’ve taken that premise as our mission, and have created an entire line of math activities that focus on empowering teachers to answer the question, “When am I going to use this?” Our activities are curriculum independent.

i just discovered this when somebody showed me this site and i found that this was interesting and I will share it with other people. it could have been done better but it was not that bad and managed to get the point across. I know some people that ask why math is important or say things like why is math necessary so I will send this to some of them

-Valerie gaouette

I realize that students need so much more than book examples to help them understand the underlying mathematical concepts. I will say that new text books do so much to try to give students real-life examples to make up for lack of prior knowledge or mastery of previous concepts. However, i support moving to more of a project based learning learning center because it creates a meaningful lesson.

For starters, let us do away with standardized tests and replace it with result-oriented project works. Kids are already doing that anyway. And believe me, the State can finance it.