When am I ever going to use this?: How AI can help answer the age old question

Every teacher has heard this question at least 17 thousand times. It’s the perpetual complaint of disinterested students who don’t see how this boring lesson could ever possibly mean anything to them.

Students want to have some assurance that their time in class is actually benefiting them. Teachers know it’s valuable to connect classroom learning to real-world applications, but in the rush to prepare for class, this aspect of a lesson can often get lost. What if you could ensure that you always had a valid answer for this question? Enter ChatGPT.

The challenge

Answering the question “When am I ever going to use this?” is challenging for a number of reasons. It takes distinct bits of information out of context from two different places, and focuses on their differences. It puts you on the spot to have the perfect answer on the tip of your tongue at all times. Abstract or theoretical subjects can seem esoteric to students, making it more difficult to explain the practical relevance. Additionally, the application of a bit of knowledge may seem obvious to you, but it can be difficult to take a step back and explain the practical applications for someone who doesn’t know the information yet. 

A math teacher tells the story of how his students asked him The Question about the current mathematical concept, and he said, “What do you mean? I use this every day!” Their reply exposed the futility of answering this question on your own: “Of course you use it every day. You’re a math teacher!”

ChatGPT to the rescue

Answering The Question may be a challenge for teachers, but ChatGPT can help! Generative AI such as ChatGPT does an excellent job of connecting ideas that may seem distant at first glance. It has a wide knowledge base to understand fundamental concepts in various subjects. It can draw connections between academic topics and practical applications. It can also take into account the context of a question, such as future aspirations, and direct its responses accordingly. It’s especially useful in putting answers into words that people of a given age can understand. All these factors make it a powerful engine for drawing these connections.

User: “How am I ever going to use this?” The lesson is about mathematical inequalities. Give me some applications that most people are likely to face.

ChatGPT: … 

Budgeting and Personal Finance: Inequalities are used to ensure spending does not exceed income.  For instance, if you earn $3000 a month, you’d set up an inequality like Total Monthly Expenses ≤ $3000 to manage your finances.

Cooking and Recipes: Adjusting recipes based on the number of servings involves inequalities. If a recipe for 4 people uses 2 cups of flour and you’re cooking for 6, you’d calculate using inequalities to increase the ingredients proportionally, ensuring the amount is not too little or too much.

[Three additional ideas given]

Personalizing the answer

To fully explain when a student might use information, there’s another important aspect to consider. Students are heading toward a variety of future careers, and they will use material in different ways. The best answer for The Question will take into consideration the future career aspirations for the individual student. Include that information in the prompt, and you have a custom-made answer. 

User: “When am I ever going to use this?” The lesson is diagramming sentences, and the student wants to be a police officer.

ChatGPT:

Writing Reports: Police officers frequently write reports that need to be clear, concise, and accurate. Diagramming sentences can help officers structure their reports more effectively, ensuring that the information is presented logically and is easy to understand.

Interviewing and Interrogation Skills: Diagramming sentences can enhance an officer’s ability to ask precise questions and interpret responses, especially in high-stakes situations like interrogations where every word matters.

[Four additional ideas given]

(Side note: As an English teacher, I had absolutely no idea how I would have answered The Question from this student. ChatGPT really hit it out of the park!)

Broader educational implications

One of the greatest potential benefits of this process is that it can help students see what sorts of knowledge and experience they will need in their future careers. By directly linking classroom lessons to career-specific scenarios, you can help students gain a clearer understanding of how their education really does apply to the real world, bridging the gap between theory and practice. This alignment not only answers the immediate question of relevance but also highlights the evolving demands of various professions in an increasingly complex world.

An added perk is the fact that this conversation includes the use of groundbreaking technology. The future is likely to be increasingly focused on technology and AI, and these conversations, aided by ChatGPT, can provide a preview of the skills and competencies needed in those future environments. By integrating AI into education now, we are preparing students not just to adapt to, but also to excel in a world where technological literacy is an essential need.

Conclusion

In an educational landscape that’s rapidly evolving with technological advancements, tools like ChatGPT are not just conveniences. They are becoming essential in bridging the gap between academic learning and practical application. By personalizing responses to align with students’ career aspirations and interests, ChatGPT doesn’t just answer the perennial question. It transforms it. Instead of a challenge, this question becomes an opportunity: An opportunity to inspire, engage, and connect with students on a level that you might otherwise miss.

As we navigate situations like this, it’s important for us as educators to remain open to new tools and approaches. Embracing AI like ChatGPT in the classroom doesn’t diminish the role of the teacher; rather, it enhances it, providing a dynamic resource that complements our expertise and passion. Ultimately, the goal is to equip students not just with knowledge, but with the understanding and insight to apply this knowledge in their lives, both now and in the future. When we employ these tools, the possibilities for enriching education and inspiring learners are as boundless as the technology itself.

[Disclaimer: ChatGPT helped me write this post. In addition to the quotes above, it provided me with suggestions for lists and material for the conclusion.]

Bonus Conversation

User: “How am I ever going to use this?” The topic is how mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. The student’s future career is civil engineer.

ChatGPT: …

Understanding Energy Systems and Efficiency: The concept of mitochondria as the powerhouse of the cell is a fundamental example of an efficient energy system. Civil engineers need to understand and design efficient energy systems, whether it’s for buildings, transportation networks, or infrastructure projects

Bio-Inspired Design and Innovation: The field of biomimicry looks at nature for inspiration in solving human engineering problems. Understanding the workings of mitochondria can inspire innovative approaches in civil engineering, like creating energy-efficient designs based on biological principles.

[Two additional ideas given]

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