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Mathematics in science

Concerns have often been raised by teachers about the level of understanding of the mathematical aspects of science amongst students. Confusion may be caused, for instance, when mathematics and science teachers use different terminology or approaches when explaining ideas.

With a greater emphasis on mathematical skills in science GCSE examinations from September 2018, our ‘Language of Mathematics in Science’ project, developed with funding from the Nuffield Foundation, aims to provide teachers with effective support to prepare for these changes and to embed good quality assessment of mathematics in science.

Our guidance is focused on developing greater clarity and coherence when working with mathematical ideas, language and procedures in science and mathematics lessons, to help children transfer their mathematical skills and understanding effectively to their science learning. We note that while there are important mathematical techniques and procedures to be learned, the way that mathematics is used in science is a matter of judgement influenced by context and circumstances, and not of applying hard-and-fast rules.

‘The Language of Mathematics in Science’ consists of two publications:

The Language of Mathematics in Science: A Guide for Teachers of 11-16 Science

This publication provides an overview of relevant ideas in secondary school mathematics and where they are used in science. It aims to clarify terminology, and indicate where there may be problems in student understanding. The publication includes explanations of key ideas and terminology in mathematics, guidance about good practice in applying mathematical ideas in science, along with a glossary of terms.

The main part of the guide consists of ten chapters, organised around the ’kinds of things we do in science’:

  1. Collecting data
  2. Doing calculations and representing values
  3. Choosing how to represent data
  4. Drawing charts and graphs
  5. Working with proportionality and ratio
  6. Dealing with variability
  7. Looking for relationships: line graphs
  8. Looking for relationships: batches and scatter graphs
  9. Scientific models and mathematical equations
  10. Mathematics in the real world

The aim of this guide is to enable teachers, publishers, awarding bodies and others to achieve a common understanding of important terms and techniques related to the use of mathematics in the science curriculum for pupils aged 11-16.

Download Guide

Hard copies of this publication are available from the ASE bookshop:

Purchase guide for £3.50 inc P&P

The Language of Mathematics in Science: Teaching Approaches

Using teachers’ accounts, this publication outlines different ways that science and mathematics departments have worked together, and illustrates different approaches to teaching mathematical terms and applications. It gives examples of how children respond to different learning activities intended to promote understanding of mathematics within a science context.

It is hoped that these two publications will provide valuable support to science teachers, and will promote good practice in the teaching and assessment of the mathematics aspects of 11-16 science.

Download Teaching Approaches

Working with the awarding bodies

All the awarding bodies have been supportive of our work during ‘The Language of Mathematics in Science’ project, and we look forward to their continued engagement when developing and exemplifying good quality assessment items of mathematics in science. To view the support available from the awarding bodies, click here

This Guidance is approved by:

  

‘The Language of Mathematics in Science’ is an ASE project with funding from the Nuffield Foundation.
ASE project team: Marianne Cutler, Richard Boohan and Richard Needham
Project steering group chair: Professor Robin Millar

For further information contact mariannecutler@ase.org.uk

What the experts say 

  

Discussion points

Further reading

The language of mathematics in science - Richard Boohan, School Science Review 360 (March 2016)

Find more articles in our School Science Review 'Mathematics in science' special issue. 

Why do students find it so difficult to apply their maths skills in science lessons?  - Education in Chemistry Blog (May 2015)

Plans for differently weighting the maths content of new science GCSEs have “little justification” - Schools Week (March 2015)