Infographic: When Am I Going To Use This

2011 Oct 25: The action on Twitter indicates that few people are looking past the infographic itself before mashing the retweet button so let me put this out in front: I think it’s a losing game to share this image with math students.

Another day, another provider of online degrees looking to boost their PageRank by trading some trinket for a link. (Link responsibly.) In this case, we have an infographic from Rasumussen College. Click for larger.

A couple of quick ones on this:

  1. I just don’t think you can ask a student to endure twelve years of frustrating math instruction now with the promise of a job making $70k as an architect later. It isn’t just kids who are lousy at delaying gratification like this, it’s everybody. And you’re asking them to do more than delay gratification. You’re asking them to delay gratification and embrace something they dislike. Tell me to put down the maple bar for the sake of a healthy heart later and I might ā€“ might! ā€“ accommodate you. Tell me to put down the maple bar and lick a cactus instead and I’ll definitely tell you where you can shove your infographic.
  2. Good news about learning second-year algebra and trigonometry, though. It seems you’re well-positioned for a career teaching second-year algebra and trigonometry. (See also: careers in physics.)
  3. A week ago, Jason Buell took on the tortured concept of the “real world,” particularly as it relates to due dates but also in the sense that everyone’s real world is different and immediate. I’m posting his last paragraph because it’s exactly right:

    The other is that our students are living in the real world right now. There is nothing more real to a student than right now. Their friends, their enemies, their greatest loves and biggest heartbreaks, their passions, their hopes and their dreams are wrapped up in a few buildings, a quad area, and a blacktop. Saying this isn’t “the real world” diminishes everything there is about a student. Stop preparing kids for the real world and prepare them for right now.

2011 Oct 24. This post is doing way more harm than good apparently.

Featured Comment


Why complicate things? My favorite reason to do math is fun. Seriously. Make that your premise and prove it throughout the year.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. I haven’t checked but maybe Rasumussen College doesn’t have science or engineering programs? It wouldn’t surprise me if they only include jobs they offer relevant degrees for.

  2. Wait. Approx. 1/3 of a lawyer’s job requires geometry? Huh?

    Dan’s meta point is a good one. There’s no question that students continue to ask, “When will I ever use this?”…but “later” isn’t much of an answer.

  3. Hahahahaha. I love the lawyers being on there.

    The reason we have far too many (see news stories about current oversupply and the pumping out of more and more new grads) and far too many people taking the LSAT when they don’t know what they want to be when they grow up is BECAUSE the test has no math on it! There are logical reasoning sections which are math-y or math-esque, but in the form of wordy questions about the brown horse being next to the white horse but never next to the pinto horse in the stall, so where is the black horse in the barn…

    Decades of confused and sad liberal arts grads with little to no math in college end up as lawyers. Of course, once they’re practicing lawyers, they wish they had more facility with numbers, in the accounting and stats genre. Never heard a lawyer lament his/her lack of trig or calc knowledge.

    Many of them also seem to not have realized that if you can’t get a job you can’t pay off 100K plus in loans. :-(

  4. With most (…and I’m stereotyping here) of my pupils wanting to be musicians, beauticians/models, pro sports players, or do their part to change the world working for an npo… we are left with the original question: ‘When am I going to use this?’.

    This, and so many other posters I see, are not engaging for today’s youth culture.

    Until we invoke attitude more strongly – in ways more emotive than 12 years of delayed gratification – we we struggling to engage the masses. Yes, I am now a teacher, but at 16 I had no clue what I wanted to do.

  5. Lawyers “use” Geometry because that’s the course where the U.S. puts most of its propositional logic standards.

    On a side note, look how desperate those tweeters are for an answer to “when are we going to have to use this?” They wont even read your post!

    Who says we have to answer that question? I agree, Dan, when you say they’re not *really* asking that question.

    “When are we going to use this?” = “I’m bored” or “I’m stuck”

    Its one of the phrases that should send alarm bells through a teacher’s head that the student is not engaged.

    A student of mine said this to me while I did the Ticket Roll problem, Dan. It caught me off guard; here was a student that hadn’t complained at all when we were sludging through abstract functions, compositions, domain and range, and yet when we do something close to tangible, she rebukes.

    I think the question need not be answered. I told my student, “you wont ever need to use this.” That answer may be more satisfying to them than anything else.

  6. I like this bit from Banner & Cannon’s “Elements of Teaching”:

    A teacher’s confidence in the intrinsic worth of knowledge is fundamental to all instruction. Such deep-rooted belief makes a teacher able to relate knowledge to life, to all human experience. To students’ typical questions, “Why do we have to learn this? What good is such knowledge?” the typical instrumental answers come to mind easily: “Because it’s required by the school board.” “Because you will do better on your licensing exam.” “Because you’ll need it later when you study economics.” But the teacher with deep learning answers with conviction and authority more pertinently: “Because acquiring this knowledge is difficult. Because you will feel triumphant when it no longer confuses you. Because you will enjoy what you can do with it. Because in learning it you may discover new perspectives on life, new ways of thinking. Because its possession will make you more alive than its alternative, which is ignorance.”

  7. Matt, quoting Banner & Cannon: Because in learning it you may discover new perspectives on life, new ways of thinking. Because its possession will make you more alive than its alternative, which is ignorance.ā€

    Any answer which does not address the specific mathematics being taught strikes me as incomplete. The same justification could be used for any topic. Why does it have to be this particular piece of learning? If our entire goal is to give perspectives on life, why not teach Go? Or problem solving in general? Or puzzles? Latin and Ancient Greek used to be taught with the same rhetoric applied, (about improving thought and stirring the soul and so forth) why not bring those back?

  8. Jason: I agree, it’s not a complete answer, but the book is about teaching in general, so they couldn’t get too discipline-specific. That being said, I think it’s about as complete as such a “general,” discipline-independent answer can be.

  9. @Jason : “Any answer which does not address the specific mathematics being taught strikes me as incomplete”

    What if there IS no honest way to address the “specific mathematics”? I worked as a software developer for nearly a decade. The amount of math I had to use doing *that* fit on a single post-it.

    Also, just wondering if any of you have read and have an opinion on Roger Schank’s latest book: “Teaching Minds: how cognitive science can save our schools.” He is more curmudgeonly than ever in this one, but it still breaks my heart to think he (and others) have been talking about this for decades, and nothing ever changes. (by *this* I mean *the need for teaching students to *think* as opposed to focusing on academic subjects).

  10. This is a little off topic, I enjoy looking at how people display data, so even if this information was worthwhile, (which it’s not), this has to be one of the worst displays of information I’ve ever seen. It not only is hard to follow it is not pleasant to look at. At least some other infographics while trivial are intriguing to look at. This one is supposedly from the same company that provided the graphic for Rasmussen:

  11. These infographics are everywhere today – it demonstrates the need for us to teach students critical thinking. My biggest beef is with Twitter itself – the so-called “curators” who spend all day passing along links – they are the biggest purveyors of this kinda junk.

    I use this metric – if someone has taken the time to create an “infographic” they are selling something. I know it sounds snarky but that’s a neutral statement. Just know there is marketing at work and take a hard look at the source of the data and conclusions. They are almost always less than credible. The data is often spotty and even wrong but flawed conclusions almost always follow.

  12. As an instructor, when I hear “When are we ever going to use this?” it’s a call to improve my instruction.

    Ideally the project or activity in class will be designed in such a way that students want to solve the problem and need to figure out some math or other concept in order to complete the project.

    Obviously that’s pretty hard to do on an every day basis, but that’s the goal- and that’s what I see you doing, Dan, with WCYDWT, AnyQs, & Three Acts: Designing interesting situations that motivate students as a result of that interesting-ness without needing to resort to insisting that they’ll need it just in case they decide to go into theoretical physics.

  13. Why complicate things? My favorite reason to do math is fun. Seriously. Make that your premise and prove it throughout the year.

  14. Love the post and the comments from everyone. I was one of the people on Twitter mashing the retweet button before reading “beyond the infographic.” I really appreciate your points in this post, along with the suggestion of looking at the source who produces the graphic. This is just another reason I love this blog in that Dan is not only changing the way we think about teaching math but also changing how we think about the subject of math itself.

  15. This chart is evil. The beauty and wonder of mathematics is reduced to a set of discrete, quantifiable “math concepts,” as if they are appliances that can be plugged into one’s personal job skill-set. And the graphic design is downright obfuscatory. What are the different lengths of the rulers that function as career labels supposed to represent? They seem partly to display some sort of proportion of courses required in each subject, but then there’s the big yellow label. Are the starting and beginning points of each label supposed to be the typical range of required math courses? It’s completely unclear.

    @Matt, that is a fantastic quote. Math is beautiful and interesting, just like any other subject worth knowing. It also happens to be useful. But that’s not why it should be taught or learnt.

  16. You’ve got me thinking about the powerful role that visual images play in changing/reinforcing perceptions.

    The guys at have created a series of images to harness this concept and use them as tools for change.

    What images (memes) could we use to change the world of maths education? Do we even have a shared view of what good maths teaching looks like in our times (the digital age)?

    ps I appreciate your modification of the infoG – the next Lolcatz? ;)

  17. Rasumussen College just needs to flash it up a bit . . .

    The guy teaching next door to me has a poster of a corvette with “Did Math” on the license plate hot-roddin’ down the road.

    That’ll motivate them to do the 10 page packet of pre-algebra review problems!

    Maybe a poster of a mansion on Did Math Drive, Mathville, GA 31415 would get them to memorize their multiplication tables?

  18. Late to the game, but I don’t think anyone else commented on this — the first thing I noticed was that there seems to be zero correlation between math concepts and income on this chart. Kinda makes you want to be an aircraft pilot.

    Plus, why are some labels bigger than others? Weird.

  19. also late. It’s mid-term time.
    Re. the tickets and relevance: I saved up toilet rolls in various stages of amount left. I tell them we get through one roll a week (and present a complete roll). How long will each partial roll last?
    When do they use it? Go to the bathroom and estimate how long it is until we need a new roll.
    Then we ask the custodians how long a roll lasts. We talk about how to make a system so that we never run out of toilet paper again.
    Oh yes, dear child, you will use this.

  20. One point people miss in these debates: school is not some kind of vocational college. Students aren’t just being outfitted for real life, they are simultaneously discovering it. If we stopped teaching any particular subject, students will never again get a chance to discover it, never get a taste of things that may well become their life’s mission. Kids discover cells, war history, debating, sports AND maths and sciences through their experiences at school, only to go on and pick just ONE thing up for a career. I have never used chemistry or biology or history or Japanese in real life: but I am grateful I was given a chance to see all of these. No amount graphing or “demographing” can disprove the need for teaching anything less than flat out _everything_ in school.