Why Do Americans Stink at Math?

An article by in the NYT; it is about America, but is very timely in the context of the National Curriculum reform in England. A quote:

It wasn’t the first time that Americans had dreamed up a better way to teach math and then failed to implement it. The same pattern played out in the 1960s, when schools gripped by a post-Sputnik inferiority complex unveiled an ambitious “new math,” only to find, a few years later, that nothing actually changed. In fact, efforts to introduce a better way of teaching math stretch back to the 1800s. The story is the same every time: a big, excited push, followed by mass confusion and then a return to conventional practices.

The trouble always starts when teachers are told to put innovative ideas into practice without much guidance on how to do it. In the hands of unprepared teachers, the reforms turn to nonsense, perplexing students more than helping them. [Emphasis is mine — AB.]

Read the whole article.




Tony Gardiner: Teaching mathematics at secondary level

A. D. Gardiner, Teaching mathematics at secondary level. The De Morgan Gazette 6 no. 1 (2014), 1-215.

From the Introduction:

This extended essay started out as a modest attempt to offer some supporting structure for teachers struggling to implement a rather unhelpful National Curriculum.  It then grew into a Mathematical manifesto that offers a broad view of secondary mathematics, which should interest both seasoned practitioners and those at the start of their teaching careers.  This is not a DIY manual on How to teach.  Instead we use the official requirements of the new National Curriculum in England as an opportunity:

  • to clarify certain crucial features of elementary mathematics and how it is learned — features which all teachers need to consider before deciding `How to teach’.

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Campaign to change UK immigration practices that deter foreign students

Please sign this petition to the Home Secretary and Minister of
Education https://you.38degrees.org.uk/p/foreignstudents to implement
the House of Lords Science & Technology Report recommendations

When we really need to send the message that international STEM students
will get a warm welcome in the UK, they’re getting the cold shoulder and
they are heading elsewhere. We’ve seen over the last few years how
international student numbers have fallen dramatically. As a result
we’re missing out on the talent and the economic and cultural
contribution that international students bring when they come here to
study, and our competitors are reaping the rewards.

Please sign the petition and ask your friends to sign it. The more
support we can get behind this campaign, the better chance we have of

The LMS June newsletter drew my attention to the House of Lords Science
and Technology report (April 2014) http://tinyurl.com/nbqbvca that
recommends a change in immigration practices relating to foreign

This is a campaign of national and international importance, and not just
about a few individuals, but I decided to act because this week some
friends of ours from Chennai met with the unpleasant face of UK
immigration practices, and academic visitors coming to work with us have
had similar experiences. Mandira, age 17, who has permanent residency in
the UK, and was on her way to the UK to do a 2 week course for High
School students in Cambridge that starts this week, was turned back and
put on a plane back to India because she has not been in the UK for 2
years. She was with her mother and younger sister, and they also planned
to visit some other universities because Mandira wants to apply to UK
universities to study medicine starting in September 2015. This was
probably a mistake on the part of some officious individual but
never-the-less it is typical.

Can you also take a moment to share the petition with others? It’s
really easy – all you need to do is forward this email or share this link
on Facebook or Twitter: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/p/foreignstudents

Thank you! Toni

Toni Beardon OBE Retired from University of Cambridge NRICH/MMP
& African Institute for Mathematical Sciences Schools Enrichment Centre
(AIMSSEC) http://aimssec.aims.ac.za

Programmes of study for Mathematics at Key Stage 4

Programmes of study for  Mathematics at Key Stage 4, which will be taught in schools from September 2015 alongside the new English and mathematics GCSEs, are published today. This appears to be the final pack of statutory documents:

Can you pass the maths test for 11-year-olds?

A sample KS2 test based on the official publication from Standards and Testing Agency,
2016 key stage 2 mathematics test: sample questions, mark scheme and commentary,
was published in The Telegraph. One question attracts attention. In The Telegraph version, it is

A question as published in The Telegraph.

The answer given is £12,396.

And this is the original question from 2016 key stage 2 mathematics test: sample questions, mark scheme and commentary

The official version of the same question

In my opinion, both versions contain serious didactic errors. Would the readers agree with me?

And here are official marking guidelines:

Official marking guidelines

And the official commentary:

In year 6 pupils are expected to interpret and solve problems using pie charts. In this question pupils can use a number of strategies including using angle facts or using fractions to complete the proportional reasoning required.
Pupils are expected to use known facts and procedures to solve this more complex problem. There are a small number of numeric steps but there is a demand associated with interpretation of data (or using spatial knowledge). The response strategy requires pupils to organise their method.

Mathematics after 16: the state of play, challenges and ways ahead

On Wednesday 02 July the Nuffield Foundation published report Mathematics after 16: the state of play, challenges and ways ahead. It argues that reforms to GCSEs and A levels risk undermining the government’s goal of universal participation in post-16 mathematics education, particularly if new ‘Core Maths’ qualifications are not backed by universities. The report brings together a wide range of evidence and warns that plans to make GCSE Maths more demanding, detach AS from A levels, and replace the modular structure in favour of terminal exams could actually discourage students from continuing to study the subject beyond the age of 16.

The report is available to download from the Nuffield Foundation website.

The Math Myth

D. Edwards,   The Math Myth, The De Morgan Gazette 5 no. 3 (2014), 19-21.


I’ve been concerned with what skills those who are working as scientists and engineers actually use. I find that the vast majority of scientists, engineers and actuaries only use Excel and eighth grade level mathematics. This suggests that most jobs that currently require advanced technical degrees are using that requirement simply as a fi lter.

[A version of this text appeared in the August, 2010 issue of The Notices of The American Mathematical Society.]