This series of activities has been designed to support teachers in engaging with the guidance in The Language of Mathematics in Science: A Guide for Teachers of 11-16 Science. The activities could be used informally by teachers for discussion with colleagues in their department, or more formally as part of structured workshops.
The activities focus on the underlying reasons for the ways that mathematics is used in science, rather than on the ‘mechanics’ of the techniques themselves. Sometimes there may be ‘right and wrong’ ways of doing things, but sometimes it is a matter of judgement about what is best to be done in a particular context. Note that the activities are intended for teachers to think about their practice: the activities are certainly not intended for students.
Currently, eight activities have been published:
- Activity A: Drawing lines on graphs
When should the data points on a graph be joined ‘dot-to-dot’ and when is it better to draw a line of best fit? How are such choices affected by the nature of the data represented?
- Activity B: Significant figures and rounding
How should the results of calculations be rounded to an appropriate number of significant figures? Are there rules that can be applied or is it a matter of judgement?
- Activity C: Showing units in tables and graphs
What are the different conventions for representing units in the headers of a table or on the axes of a graph? Which ways of showing units are preferable?
- Activity D: Calculations using formulae
How can formulae be re-arranged during calculations? Are ‘calculation triangles’ useful? How can pupils be supported in their understanding?
- Activity E: Handling units in calculations
How should units be included when setting out a calculation? Should they be shown throughout each of the steps or only shown at the end?
- Activity F: Bar chart or line graph?
How do you decide whether to chose a bar chart or a line graph when either could be drawn from the data? What is the difference between continuous and discrete data?
- Activity G: Choosing displays
How can you chose whether to draw pie charts, grouped bar charts or stacked bar charts when any of these could be drawn from the data? How is this affected by the nature of the data and the questions that are of interest?
- Activity H: Working with very large or very small values
How do you chose appropriate units for values? When is it useful to use standard form (scientific notation)? Are there simple rules to apply?
For each activity there is a downloadable one-page pdf that raises the questions for discussion, and is accompanied by notes giving references to where the ideas are discussed in the guidance booklet.