Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Practical Knowledge 101

By Sean Scarpiello

Throughout grade school and high school, students learn many important subjects such as chemistry, calculus, foreign languages, literature and more. However, by the time we graduate high school, many of us are not ready to take on the real world. While many of the classes that make up the curricula of American education are important, there are other vital subjects and experiences that can easily be taught in schools for low to no cost.

As we look back on our educations or help our children through their education, we see that all students are constantly asking “when will I use this in life?” Many teachers come up with creative ways to describe a time when the difficult or abstract concept can be used to answer this question before continuing on with the material. In reality, the majority of the facts and raw data we learn in school are forgotten after the final exam. Instead, teachers should focus their students’ efforts on improving analytic and problem solving skills. For example, I work for a small pharmaceutical company where I use an expensive piece of equipment that separates out molecules by size and then forms a graph based on the size of each molecule. By integrating the graph- finding the area under the peaks of data on the graph- we are able to test the purity of cancer drugs. During my schooling, I took a semester of differential calculus followed by a semester of the more difficult integral calculus. Here, I memorized integration rules, struggled to understand Maclaurin series, and tried to wrap my head around finding volume by the rotation of equations. Overall, I look back and see I that spent a lot of time working through grasping difficult concepts rather than applying knowledge and improving problem solving skills. While it is still important to know the basic framework of integrations, we have computer software in the lab which automatically integrates the data for us. For students, it is disappointing to look back and see a year of classes wasted on memorizing formulas when this time could be better spent working on critical thinking or developing hands-on skills. Alternatively, I took an Anatomy class, which is typically associated with memorizing parts of the body, and found that I improved my problem solving skills due to how the course was structured.

Another argument that could be directed especially towards high school is the need for classes on practical knowledge. Too many people today graduate without knowing how to do their taxes, balance a check book, apply for a loan, or many more of the everyday activities needed to be a functioning adult. Additionally, if people aren’t able to fill out tax information or budget their money properly, there can be some huge consequences. I find it frustrating that I can find the volume of a bullet or a doughnut using calculus, but I still need my parents to look over my tax information. I know of many adults who continue to struggle with personal finance, understanding credit, and even gaining comprehensive knowledge of software such as Word or Excel.

To address these issues, high schools could teach or sponsor online classes where students can learn the ins and outs of being a functional citizen. Many students graduate high school and college without some very important skills and experience which could have quickly and effectively been taught as part of the curriculum. A computer or tablet can be a great medium to teach a class on finance which can be simplified using interactive graphs and easy-to-digest visuals. Further, classes on computer applications can teach students all the possible formulas and statistical tests that can be run in excel. Many students who are preparing to graduate would be willing take these classes as they know they are going out into the real world.

In all, schools can effectively use technology and online based platforms to teach students skills, problem solving, and practical knowledge. Also, there are many classes that can be restructured to include many of these skills while leaving out unneeded memorization of formulas and specific details. The use of technology can present these highly beneficial skills in a way that is interesting and interactive for students, while remaining at minimal costs for schools.

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