“Ms. Brown, why am I learning this stuff ?!”

“Ms. Brown, why am I learning this stuff ?!”

This (above) blog title was a common lamentation that I heard from some of my high school students when I was a teacher in the public school system.

TemperatureWhat’s the temperature?

Today it is so hot outside in Talca, approximately 84 degrees  Fahrenheit.  I had arrived to the office after having walked to and from the grocery store to buy a few things.  While leaving the mall, the above picture caught my attention.  Since I don’t have a vehicle here in Chile I just started to realize how much money I am probably saving myself not having to drive a car or either my motorcycle everyday.  I could see the price of the gas on a sign across the street and was again reminded how in the US, we are one of the few countries still using a non-metric system.  Here in Chile, the time in based on a 24 hour logarithm, temperatures are in degrees Celsius, and liquid units are in liters and milliliters.

During my period of being a high school teacher, when my students used to complain about learning algebra and needing to “solve for X” they never understood the value of such ability because most of their cultural contexts was based in an US experience.  Apart for the international students in some of my classes, most felt that learning these concepts were a waste of time and on many occasions I couldn’t immediately think of a comparative reason why they needed to now how to “solve for X”.

Upon arriving at my desk I inquired with my officemate Veronica as to what the average temperature was in the Summer (as we are still in Spring season here).  She responded “viente ocho” which I immediately knew had to be 28 degrees Celsius.  Being a North American, I am more familiar with temperatures in Fahrenheit so I knew I needed to do a conversion.  I remember from my biology classes that the average body temperature is 37 degrees Celsius which translates to 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit so I did the above conversion to get a sense of what to expect for an average summer temperature in Talca, Chile.  This required having the ability to solve for X.  Therefore, providing me with an excellent example for my students as to why they need to learn Algebra.  Clearly, I needed this skill because it came in handy when I wanted to answer my temperature question within an international context.

GasWhat will it cost to fill my gas tank?

This brings me to my final example… I saw the price of gas was 773.0 pesos/liter but intuitively, I had no idea what that was per gallon.  At first I thought, “Oh!  That’s only about $1.50 per gallon”, but then I realized that liquid measurements here are in units of liters.  So, I had to find the conversion factor for liters to 1 gallon and as a result came to realize that the gas prices for car fuel here is quite high (approximately $6 per gallon).  Yikes!!  So if I ever again encounter a situation with either my students, friends, or family and they decry the need to learn Algebra or higher math, I will draw upon this adult learning experience.  My response to them will be that ignorance is not bliss and as a matter of fact it can be quite EXPENSIVE if you aren’t attentive! 😉

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