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When Are We Going to Use This in Real Life?

By Mike Mozingo, Program Manager, AVID Center

As an algebra teacher, I was often faced with the question, “When are we going to use this in the real world?” In fact, many students took great delight in telling me that their parents told them that they never used algebra after high school. I respectfully told them that although their parents may have never solved an equation on paper after high school, they still used the critical thinking skills that they learned in their math classes.

When I became an AVID Elective teacher, I was faced with the same question whenever I asked students to fill out a Tutorial Request Form (TRF). The TRF is a form that AVID students complete before tutorial days—it allows them to zero in on a point of confusion that they are struggling with in one of their classes and walks them through several metacognitive steps that help them come to their tutorial prepared. It’s a helpful tool, but students often question its value.

“When are we ever going to use these in college?” Whenever students asked this, I pulled out an analogy that I had often used in my algebra classes as a way to explain the importance of the TRF. I asked the students how many of them had played a sport (soccer, football, basketball, etc.). Almost all of them raised their hands. Then, I said, “How many of your coaches pulled out orange cones during practice and made you run around them?” All of them raised their hands. I don’t know what it is about coaches, but they all seem to love orange cones. Whether it is soccer, football, or basketball, there is something magical about the orange cone that causes coaches to set them up and make obstacle courses for their players to practice dribbling, passing, and various footwork skills. These odd traffic control devices have somehow gained a presence in athletics.

My next question to the students was, “When during the game do they pull out orange cones and put them on the field or court?” Of course, this drew a lot of blank stares and raised eyebrows. No one wanted to answer due to the fact that the answer was so obvious. Finally, some daring soul would offer, “They never bring out the orange cones during the game.” At this point, I would looked shocked and in disbelief, as I asked, “What? Why do you practice so much with those orange cones if you are never going to use them in a real game?” At that point, you could see a couple of light bulbs start to shine above a few students’ heads. Some would offer, “We practice with the cones to learn the skills we need to be successful in the game. We learn the footwork and build muscle memory so that it comes naturally to us. It builds habits so that when the pressure is on, we don’t even have to think about what we need to do; we just do it.”

That is when I would hold up a TRF and declare, “This is one of AVID’s orange cones!” I let them know that they are correct in that there may never be a time in their college careers where a professor is going to demand that they fill one out. They are probably never going to be able to use one during an exam. However, they may choose to keep filling out TRFs (or some form of them) long after they are required because the TRF is the tool to build the skills that they need to be successful in the real game of college. They will use it to build critical thinking skills until they become natural. After doing two TRFs a week for four to six years, problem solving will be such a habit that, when the pressure is on, they won’t even have to think about where to start. They will start with an initial question, work through to the actual point of confusion, and find someone who can help them solve their problem.

For the rest of the year, every time I heard a murmur asking why we were doing something, all I had to say was, “Orange cone,” and my students knew exactly what I meant.


After teaching math for eleven years and AVID for six years, Mike joined AVID as a Program Manager in Texas in 2013. He currently has two teenagers at home and one in college, so the AVID lessons are very relevant and often repeated. His favorite thing about AVID is that it teaches students how to do the things that they are expected to do in school, but were never told how.

For more on AVID, visit AVID.org.

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