Why do I need to know this?

You’ve all heard this question before, in math class, in biology, or English: “Why do we need to know this?”

Now, most teachers will ignore you if you say this. Some clever teachers will whip out a chart about what kind of jobs a person with a math degree can get–but teenagers are hardly thinking about becoming systems analysts or biological statisticians. Frankly, this was one of the least impressive answers I’d heard. Math as a JOB? I like math, but like, jobs don’t sound like fun. Whatever.

Pardon me for indulging my Southern Californian imitation for a second.

The most intriguing answers to me were from teachers who clearly enjoyed the subject, who were passionate about learning, and about finding out the answers to complex questions. My physics teacher once waned poetic about the wonders of the human ear, and how simple mechanics allow you to hear entire symphonies of sound built upon sound upon sound…It was at that point that I realized that wonder was a key component to liking this science stuff.

Now schoolteacher Alom Shaha from the UK has compiled 30 minutes worth of answers to this question, filled not just with a sense of wonder but also with a sense of urgency in solving the world’s problems. I think this is so important. It’s really easy to think science is about memorizing old facts that some dudes discovered in the 1800s, or some less old facts that some dudes refuted in the 1900s. But science is really about the here and now, about making new discoveries that can change the way we live and breathe everyday.

Here’s an article about his film, and the film’s website itself, where the whole thing is available for free. It’s well-made. And since he teaches at a girls’ school in London, some of his students participate. I’m not all the way through yet, but it’s pretty awesome so far.

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Vy is a recent graduate working in a neuroscience lab with children and monkeys. She likes sewing, knitting, lifting weights, and reading in her free time. Especially reading about science!


  1. Croobie
    April 5, 2009 at 9:06 pm —

    As far as math goes, I pulled that stunt in high school, “when am I going to need this?”
    Those just might be the seven nastiest words ever to eat; seeing as I’m a physics major.

  2. sporefrog
    April 9, 2009 at 1:09 pm —

    “Never memorize what can be looked up in books” – Einstein.

    We can add “books, or the internet” for a modern interpretation 😛

    I opted out of high school chemistry, asking “when am I going to need this?” After three years of taking it in college I’m set to be a chemistry TA to teach it to freshmen, because it’s so much fun. People who go into science because they want a good job probably aren’t going to be very good scientists.

  3. junco
    April 10, 2009 at 4:43 pm —

    I read constantly as a kid, so english classes were always so easy for me I could sleep through them and provide a correct answer if someone nudged me. I was always interested in science, wanted to be a scientist (albeit of the purely “field” variety, you know, the intrepid scientist out on the high seas or the savannah or whatnot, Mutual of Omahas Wild Kingdom. In freshman year of high school we had Earth Science, which, while a little vague in it’s scope, was taught by the same teacher who taught senior physics, (and was also the guys soccer coach, you can probably guess I went to a small school). He was an amazing teacher, very engaging, funny, but stringent and demanding as well. I don’t remember any of the labs, I just remember really getting into the nuts and bolts of doing experiments, graphing out the results, making sense out of what seemed like a bunch of random data points.
    Math, on the other hand, always gave me trouble, and even though I am still something of a math retard, I really wish I had a teacher back then that could have shown the wonder of mathematics, as I had seen the wonder of science. My failure to grasp, (and unwillingness to grasp) mathematics back then has hindered me for years. Granted, I am responsible. However, a good, imaginative teacher that loves their subject, and can “infect” their students with their enthusiasm, is invaluable.

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