The Compelling "Why?" Continued

Posted on: Tue, 01/28/2020 - 13:55

This week’s guest bloggers are Urbana HS science teacher Melissa Chang and Linganore HS math teacher Sharon Dravvorn Drake. Please enjoy their insights on responding to the question from students: "Why do I have to learn this?"

Guest Blogger Melissa Chang, science teacher at Urbana High School

photo of chemistry experimentChemistry is a part of daily life. The food we eat, air we breathe, water we drink--everything is made of chemicals. Life cannot exist without chemistry. You brushed your teeth with toothpaste, which involved chemistry. You enjoyed the cup of coffee that kept you warm--chemistry. It tasted great--chemistry again. You came to school on a bus--that bus was a product of chemistry, as was the fuel that it burned. The phone you use is powered by chemistry. Chemistry is in everything that you touch--including the weather.

It is Tuesday morning, January 7th, in my Chemistry I Honors class. Since returning from winter break, we have been working to understand the reasons that intermolecular forces exist between molecules and the factors that determine how substances dissolve.

Today we are applying our newfound knowledge to the concept of freezing point depression. We are performing a lab to investigate how adding different salts to water will lower the water’s freezing point. I passed out a ChemMatters journal article entitled "Salting Roads: The Solution for Winter Driving." We discussed how pure water freezes at 0⁰C but that adding salt to the water lowers the freezing point below zero. This means that salty water will require a lower temperature before it freezes. But what salt would be the best one to use? Why don’t we use sugar on the roads instead of salt? These are questions we will answer in today’s lab: "Freezing Point Depression: How Low Can You Go?"

The students proceed to lab benches and begin collecting data on the mass of ice, water, and salt. They record the lowest temperature they reach with the various types of salt and sugar solutions. Then they calculate the molar mass of each salt; the number of corresponding moles of each salt; and then, in combination with their temperature data, they work to calculate the freezing point depression of each solution. 

Tomorrow they will tell me which salt is best and why sugar is not a good choice. We did not get to answer these questions today, as we were told that we would be dismissed early as it was snowing. I wonder if the students were thinking of our lab on their way home on roads just beginning to freeze…

Guest Blogger, Sharon Dravvorn Drake, math teacher at Linganore High School

"Why do we need to learn algebra?" This question has been asked for decades and will continue to be asked. The answers may have changed, but the desire to know why certain content is a graduation requirement has not changed. While most students will not factor polynomials for a living, all students will be faced with dilemmas in life. Being able to think logically through a situation will give them an advantage.

Algebra is a medium for teaching young people to be lifelong learners and problem solvers. Formulas, facts, and computation can all be acquired through the use of computers, yet knowing how to use this information is the key. As educators, we want to fill our students’ toolboxes with as many tools as we can. When life presents personal or professional challenges, we want them to have a plethora of tools to use to tackle the challenges.

Our students also need to know how to use their tools. Algebra trains the brain to think logically. Students learn problem-solving techniques as they struggle productively toward a solution. Teachers, as well as parents, are facilitators and cheerleaders as young minds explore, try, fail, adjust, and try again.

Perhaps we need to reply to the question "Why do I need to know this?" with "How will you use this?" We must guide students in exploring how they can apply algebra skills in life. Each student has a unique path to walk. By empowering students to be active in the learning process, we help them discover their own "why." Inquisitive minds will question and be able to find answers to their curiosities.

"Why do I need to know this?"

"Because you will have more opportunities in life with these skills and knowledge. You will be able to solve problems. You will have the capacity to change the world with your toolbox. Your "why" is your question to answer."