The Language of Mathematics in Science

The Language of Mathematics in Science

Guidance for teachers of 11-16 science on explanations of key ideas and terminology in maths, and good practice in applying mathematical ideas 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, this guidance aims to provide teachers with effective support 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 book 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 book 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.

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.

This guidance is approved by AQA, edexcel, eduqas and OCR


ASE project team: Marianne Cutler, Richard Boohan, Richard Needham

Mathematics advisers to project team: Andrew Noyes and Geoffrey Wake

Steering group: Robin Millar (chair, University of York), Jeremy Hodgen (University of Nottingham), Andrew Hunt (formerly Nuffield Curriculum Centre), Jane Imrie (NCETM), Cheryl Lloyd (Nuffield Foundation), Rosalind Mist (Royal Society), Michael Reiss (UCL Institute of Education), Clare Thomson (Institute of Physics), Brian Cartwright (observer, HMI), Janet Holloway (observer, Ofqual).

Awarding organisations: Matthew Bennett (AQA), Kathryn Booth (Edexcel), Natasha Chowdhury (OCR), Helen Francis (WJEC), Stella Paes (AQA), Michelle Spiller (OCR)

Science and mathematics review panel: Peter Campbell, Brian Cartwright, Ian Galloway, Andrew Hunt, Jane Imrie, Philip Johnson, Scott Keir, Stephen Lyon, Roni Malek, Robin Millar, Robin Sutton, Mary Whitehouse

Teacher review panel and others providing feedback: Dan Abbott, Christine Abdelmoutaleb, Damian Ainscough, Sarah Albenna, Nicola Arthur, Matthew Benyohai, Tim Bridle, Stephen Burrowes, Miriam Chaplin, Antony Checkett, Anthony Clowser, Steve Cooke, Ally Davies, Emma Dooley, Pat Dower, George Duoblys, John East, Stuart Farmer, Carolyne Gerrard, Alastair Gittner, Stephanie Gordon, Mark Harrison, Robin Hartley, Louise Herbert, Sarah Hinsley, George Hurst, Mike Jackson, Bob Kiddle, Mark Levesley, Calvin Lim, Claudia Patricia López, Nicola McGrath, Eliza McIntosh, Stewart McKane, Colin Oates, Muhsin Ogretme, Simon Richards, Emma Rivers, Dave Rockett, John Ryan, Alison Sefton, Annette Simpson, David Staniforth, Andreas Stockey, Alaric Thompson, Heather Thomson, Marc Tillotson, Ed Walsh, Gary Ward, Dorothy Warren, Colleen Wells, Nicola Wilberforce, Leonard Winning, Gordon Wright

Maths in Science