Why are we doing this?

I have some chemistry students who ask “Why do we have to learn this?” How can I address this other saying “you’ll need it in college.” —D., Delaware

Why are we studying this? What good is this?

It’s easy to answer student questions like these with “because it will be on the test” or “because it’s in the textbook,” but this usually doesn’t satisfy the student. As you noted “you’ll need this someday” is equally frustrating because information is readily available electronically, and we can’t predict what careers and interests students will have in the future.

Some students enjoy science, and their interest is independent of class activities. Others are skeptical and may need to be convinced that a topic is worth learning. Teachers can make science interesting and relevant by sharing their enthusiasm and using thought-provoking investigations or activities, multimedia and visuals, a variety of instructional strategies, cooperative learning, and opportunities for students to use their curiosity and creativity.

As you plan a unit, consider the goal or performance expectation. What content is essential? How can I use a variety of practices to make it interesting? How does the unit connect with or build on what students already know? Does it provide background for future learning? How does it relate to real-life events or other subject areas? How can students personalize this information?

It may help to introduce each unit with essential questions focused on a big idea or theme. During each lesson, revisit the questions, connecting any new content or experiences. If the questions are posted in the classroom or in the students’ science notebooks, they are a constant reminder of why students are learning about the topic. Eventually, students may come up with their own questions and learning goals.


Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fontplaydotcom/504443770/

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  1. Dan
    Posted May 11, 2017 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    This question is too common in my opinion. I am a young teacher, but even I remember having, as a high school student, enough respect for adults and teachers that I would not interrupt them to question their actions and authority. At times it makes me wonder if I was the foolish one for not questioning my teacher’s authority, or if these students are simply wrong for not trying to better themselves by getting a priceless education.
    But that is another question altogether. My real purpose in posting is to say thank you for this idea. I have a similar plan, one incorporating technology such as Twitter, to get my students to reflect on how what they learn in school is relevant. Fortunately, I have the pleasure of having some students come up to me and happily tell me about examples of weathering and erosion, the last topic we covered, that they noticed in the community. I couldn’t help but think it would be great to share with other students using social media. Turning our own classroom into a social media presence of sorts.
    I just wanted to also say thank you for the awesome ideas!

  2. Bekah
    Posted May 14, 2017 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    I have been able to avoid this problem by following your suggestions. They worked really well in my covalent versus ionic topic (we discussed how sunscreen worked and what ingredients in medicine is covalent versus ionic, ect.) Even acids and bases, we talked about how strong acids in high quantities can ruin your teeth and give you ulcers.

    One of my struggles is with balancing equations and types of equations. When we get deeper into the chemistry and more mathematically inclined, it seems to be difficult to find relevant topics the students can relate to. How do I get past this barrier when I still have to teach this topic?

  3. Mary B
    Posted May 17, 2017 at 1:58 am | Permalink

    Dan – what a great deal to have students share the connections they make using social media! Thanks!

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