Teachers: How do you respond to “but when are we ever gonna need to use this?”

Ugh. That ubiquitous line that all teachers find themselves facing from students is the question of when the information that’s being taught is going to be useful in the “real world.” You refrain from spinning around, smoke blowing out your ears, to answer with "when are you gonna use Minecraft? when are you gonna use paper footballs? WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO USE A JACKET WITH A LETTER ON IT IN THE REAL WORLD, KID?!" Restraint, the #1 soft skill of teachers world wide.


The answer to the original question is simple:  every day.

What’s learned in the classroom isn’t always about the content, but it is always about exercising the muscles of the mind and expanding understanding. Learning content is a means to an end. And the 'end' isn’t the answer to the algebra problem - the 'end' is learning how to find the answers.

While the human brain is capable of holding large amounts of information, what it's truly designed to do is to make connections and understand processes. In the classroom it can often seem as though the focus is on recalling and regurgitating facts, but learning happens when we work through processes. And those processes are most memorable when they are directly experienced.

Active learning is the method through which the most innovative and engaged educators are teaching their students today. This experiential model allows students to work through a problem in the same way we adults work through problems; trying and sometimes failing.

Neurological networks are built with every problem solved, every poem read and every history fact digested. Those networks don’t only apply to the math or the language arts or the history, the brain uses them for processing whatever information it comes across. And once those paths are there, they’re permanent. Classroom learning translates to real world understanding, even when they seem unrelated.

Life outside of the classroom involves learning a new skill and trying it out. That’s what the “real world” is all about. Students and even teachers have no idea about what kinds of specific skill sets might be needed in the future, but they do know that the universal skills of critical thinking and problem solving transcend any subject area or work environment. And should we forget that adult life isn’t just about work, its about navigating relationships and home, finances and family.

In the classroom, cooperative and problem solving learning gives students the opportunity to develop life skills and brain power that lasts a lifetime. It’s not about the lesson, it’s about the connections. So yes, student, nanana booboo, you will need to use it.

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