Why Learn This?

Recently, a student asked me why we were learning about magnets. What was the point? When would this possibly be useful? This is not an unusual thought or question to arise in classrooms but one that can draw frustration.

I encounter this question from my own children at home much more often than I hear it from my students. In fact, I only recall being directly asked this twice in my career. Maybe I pre-empt my units with purpose or maybe my students are generally more respectful, or maybe my class is always active so the question doesn’t develop. I don’t know, but I do know the question was asked and I had to answer.

At first, I was puzzled when the student brazenly spoke up. Then, I became a little defensive, then confused. I had just shown students videos of maglev trains and roller coasters, thinking these real world applications would suggest purpose for learning. I reminded the class of the videos but the student wasn’t buying it.

Thankfully, I was in the right frame of mind and answered the question. I share this with you because maybe something in my response resonates with you. I believe it to be true. The purpose of many education endeavors is to equip people with information and skills for their lives. In science, I hope to provide tools to help students solve problems. I told my class my truth – their generation, just like previous generations, will be faced with problems we don’t even have a concept of at this time. Our hope is that when they are faced with those problems that they will be ready to think. The experience of school may not provide an exact solution, but I hope it provides some concepts, skills, practices, creativity, or an inkling of an idea from which they draw upon to find or create solutions.

As I reflect on this response, I remind myself to be true to this purpose in my lessons. I want to make sure I am working to equip this generation. They will not remember most of the information I offer them, but I want them to remember the experiences. I want them to know they can think and create and work hard to encounter success.

Good luck to all of you in 2022!

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