This is probably one of the most common questions students have; whether they ask it or not, they still can’t stop thinking about it. Many students come up with the conclusion on their own that quadratic equations are useless in the real world and therefore lack the motivation to really put time and effort into learning it. Unfortunately, they are only half right. The examples I am about to give might be more focused on math but they apply to any of the physical sciences.

The answer to this question could be yes and no, depending on how you look at it. No, if you are talking about quadratic equations, hyperbolas, anti-derivatives, and so on. Unless you are going into the few occupations where these knowledge might matter, chances are, you will not solve a quadratic equation again once you are done with school. I understand the text book does provide some word problems that seem like the real world, but let’s face it, if I needed to build a fence that needs the length to be 4 feet more than the width with a certain area, I personally would whip out my pencil and paper to set up and equation. However, most people would just go to the hardware store, buy a bunch of fencing material and return the leftovers. The truth is, It is not that big of a deal if you forget factoring and finding x.

So what is the “yes” part of the answer? What we often lose sight of and what is hard for students to see is that there are two parts of an education: knowledge and skill. Math and science courses aren’t just there to teach us the knowledge of math and science, they are also there to teach us how to THINK like a scientist. When we are being taught how to solve for x, we are not just being taught the mathematical process of finding x, but more importantly how to “solve.”

Once you finally leave school and enter the real world, chances are, you will rarely have to find x ever again, but you will always be asked to “solve.” Approaching most problems in life is very similar to solving math problems. Step one is to find out what you know; followed by some reasonable assumptions and hypotheses, which will eventually l lead you to a conclusion or solution. Math is the foundation of any type problem solving. The physical sciences takes math and adds some applicability.

At the end the of the day, once you are in the real world, whatever you learned from math becomes your analytical, critical thinking, and problem solving skills; whatever you learned from science becomes your common sense. So next time when you are working a math problem and wondering “why” you are doing it, pay more attention to “how” you are doing it. In other words, how you are approaching the problem.

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