Learning: The ‘How is this going to help me?’ thought

Have you ever been sitting in class or revising for a test and learning the order of the electromagnetic spectrum, or the results for a positive gas test of chlorine, or the dates a certain war happened, and thought “How is this ever going to help me after I leave school??”. Very likely you have. What should we do when a thought like this pops up? I shall write a few tips on this and my thoughts about the validity of this thought also.

So, is this going to help me in my life?

A lot of the time, we have to appreciate that, no. This particular thing may not assist you in what you end up doing a fter you leave school. I’m not going to convince you that after you leave school you will constantly be needing to factorise a quadratic equation or apply the pythagoras theorem to situations. You might, but highly likely you will not. But… the skills you are having to use to be able to factorise quadratic equations or apply the pythagoras theorem you will almost certainly find helpful.

You may not realise when these skills have helped you, but every time you learn a new skill or fact, your brain makes new connections and the more you practise this skill, the stronger the connections become. These connections are flexible. You are not only learning how to factorise a quadratic equation, but you are also learning how to solve problems and understand symbols and patterns. The more different skills you learn, the more adaptable you become and the more able you are to solve a multitude of problems. You may notice that the smart kid in school who gets straight As also often comes up with novel solutions to problems that are completely unrelated to anything taught in school.

Learn it faster

You also just get better at learning, so when you have to learn something new, you learn it faster. I was never very interested in French at school until I went to France and actually used the language to communicate with someone and buy a cream cake from a shop somewhere in Paris! It was awesome! Years later, I travelled around Asia and learnt many Asian languages. The first one took me a while to pick up, the next I picked up more quickly and so on. Later in life, I have had to learn computer languages and I picked them up quickly because it was similar to learning a linguistic language. Learning languages also helped me to notice how my own language is constructed and how it uses various rules to convey meaning.

Learning can be fun!

If you really immerse yourself in the learning process, it can be a lot of fun. Try not to think too much about the looming tests, exams and coursework all of the time, and enjoy learning for learning’s sake. I might hear some interesting thing on TV, or read an interesting book and I don’t really think “Do I really need to know that sharks can detect magnetic fields? How will that help me?” I just find it interesting. It’s fun.

But… Don’t forget the exams!

Ok, so you’re learning something that you don’t see the point in and you are trying to find it interesting, but you just can’t. Well, let us not forget completely that you do have these exams coming up and while they may be stressful, the qualifications they lead to are quite useful little things!

With these simple A4 pieces of paper, you can open up doors! Metaphorical doors that is… They are only bits of paper. It’s important to not pigeon hole yourself and think ‘I must get this grade or that grade’, but if you did get such and such grade, you could do this thing or that. So, whether or not you see the point in something, one big point is to increase the chance of opening up those (metaphorical) doors!

Don’t let your mind distract you!

So, next time you see that thought creep onto the centre stage of your mind, just don’t give it any importance. Don’t try to not think the thought. You’ve already thought it! You can’t change something that has already happened and you’ll just exhaust yourself trying. Instead, just think in response, “Hello thought. Not right now thanks, I’m busy.” and then get back to your learning. No need to identify with the thought. Sometimes you can see your unhelpful thoughts as sounds, or maybe another person living in your head. Sometimes this person is helpful, sometimes they just moan! Pay no attention to them and they’ll shut up.

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A bit about the author, Paul H:

Paul is a qualified and experienced Physics, Maths, and Science teacher, now working as a full-time tutor, providing online tuition using a variety of hi-tech resources to provide engaging and interesting lessons.  He covers Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Science from Prep and Key Stage 3 through to GCSE and IGCSE. He also teaches Physics, Maths, and Chemistry to A-Level across all the major Exam Boards.

You can enquire about tutoring with Paul here

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