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Helping your child connect school to work

Your middle-schooler may not understand why learning algebra, science or how to write essays matters. You can help make those school-to-life connections.

By GreatSchools Staff

Your son shrugs off a bad grade on his algebra test. Or your daughter balks at unplugging the iPod to finish her homework problems. The response you get goes something like this:

"What's the point of algebra? I'm never gonna use it again."

Even if your child doesn't get to this point, he might wonder what middle school has to do with a future career. Schools don't always do a good job of making that connection. But if you take time to talk to your child about career goals now, you can help him broaden his thinking, choose elective classes more carefully and shape his summer plans.

Math and real life

Let's start with this: What's the point of algebra if you're not headed toward a career in math?

The answer: You won't get to college without it. And if you wind up having to take remedial math in college because you didn't complete two years of algebra and geometry, your chances of succeeding in college are considerably lower, according to research by the ACT.

But what if your child says college isn't for him? You can tell him, of course, that he may well change his mind between now and high school graduation, that there's no point in closing doors to future careers and that the average person makes more than three career changes. But if he's adamant, start with some real-life examples.

Research by the ACT shows that high school graduates need the same math whether they're going to college or straight into the work force. Your child - and you - might be surprised to know all the careers that don't require college but do require math. Here are just a few:

  • Auto mechanics: Advances in technology have changed the components and materials used in cars, and auto mechanics today need to have good math, as well as computer and reading skills necessary to follow instructions in technical manuals that are often computer based.
  • Carpentry: Carpenters use algebra and geometry every time they calculate angles to figure out how to cut their building materials.
  • Real estate: Agents use math to figure out if a potential buyer will qualify for a loan, and to calculate closing costs and mortgage payments.
  • Small business: Owners and managers calculate product prices, employee wages, taxes and advertising budgets. They prepare business plans that include short- and long-term budgets; analyze statistics from customer service surveys and data to figure out the best use of floor space.

Your child can log on to the College and Work Ready Agenda to see videos of Washington state students as they interview a musician, Xbox creator, architect and airline pilot about why math matters in their careers.

Even if your child doesn't choose a career that specifically uses algebra, studying it will help her learn to think logically and make her a better problem solver. It will also help her be a wiser consumer of health care, a better manager of her personal finances and a smarter analyst of election campaign pitches.

What about science?

Is your child balking at science? She doesn't have to be a scientist to need science smarts on the job.

A chef uses chemistry to make sauces thicken and soufflés rise. So does an artist who uses knowledge of how metals oxidize to create colors in his work. Park rangers, firefighters and airline pilots use science. Those cool detectives on "CSI" use chemistry to investigate crimes, lawyers need an understanding of scientific evidence to make their arguments in court, and judges need to analyze the evidence brought by opposing sides in a case.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

08/16/2010:
"Thank you for another insightful article. I work in Higher Education as a College Admissions Professional and talk to students often about their grades and career objectives.My wife graduated Cum Laude from our Northern AZ University our, Alma Mater. She received an Elementary Education Degree but uses it primarily with our children. We have a 4 year old and a 6th Grader that just began Middle School and I found this information very helpful."
08/27/2009:
"you can not succedd if you don't belive"
05/1/2009:
"I think this e-mail is excellent for both the student and the parent, but mostly for the student. As parents we all go via the process of raising our children and want the best for them. If the parent loves their child or children they will put forth the effort to ensure they understand the school material, but the student must take the school work seriously. I am a retired Civil Engineer and have two children of my own. I kept my daughter one school level ahead via out K - 12 grades. I heard a lot of no's with regards to her school work, but was precedent. She thanked Dad when she graduated from high school with a 3.75 average. She went on to college and graduated from Cal State University at Sacramento with a Bachelors degree in Nursing (5 year program). She is presently an RN at one of the major hospitals in Sacramento, CA. This is just an example of what can be accomplished in a student's life if the parent and student work together takings one's school work seriou! sly. My son has been attending CNM and wants to be an architect. I personally think this is a great website for the parent and student. "
06/2/2008:
"The Algebra. Graduated back in 1977. Said I would never need math when I'm older. Man was I wrong. Our children are 5th and 8th. I or their father can't even help w/ MATH homework. My 8th grader is struggling and not doing assignments. She's received an F. I was looking for the school she'll be going to next year. We are moving to a bettter school district. Hopefully summer school will encourage her to do better. She's a very smart girl. I wiil show her this website. Thanks and Aloha...Chary "
10/3/2007:
"I could not agree more. My child works on reports and I am forced to sit back and see what happens. The grammar is terrible, has no structure, mispellings (although he won the spelling bee), and manages to get an A. The teachers thus far make no corrections either. Many children cannot even write a complete sentence. I am in college so he sees the value of education and increasing your income potential while enjoying life too. You actually can love what you are doing. It's called a career."
10/2/2007:
"Excellent timing! I just asked my son to have this conversation with his advanced math teacher. Now we have something to share with teachers and the other students in his 5th grade class. Thank you!"
09/20/2007:
"I can't believe this topic showed up today. Just last night my 8th grader was saying he would NEVER need Algebra or how could his English teacher expect him to read 3-5 novels this year? I am going to use the resources in this article tonight! Thank you!"
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