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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds TEACHER 1: Sometimes you have to teach it in so many different ways because students have this mental block that you have to try and get around that barrier somehow. So sometimes, I struggle to think of the fifth different way of teaching a particular thing, and that would be my biggest problem, I think, in struggling to teach the maths content.

Skip to 0 minutes and 33 seconds TEACHER 2: I think one aspect of maths content I would struggle to teach is standard form. I understand standard form, but in the way that I was taught it and it doesn’t seem to necessarily translate to the students. So I assume that perhaps they’re taught standard form in a different way to I was.

Skip to 0 minutes and 49 seconds TEACHER 1: Actually, now that you say, I completely agree.

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 seconds TEACHER 2: Which means that they don’t understand what I’m saying.

Skip to 0 minutes and 53 seconds TEACHER 1: Yeah, no, I completely agree. Last year, I asked the person in charge of training at my school to have as many hours of our training with the Maths department so we could sit down and actually look at what they teach and what we have to teach. It was the beginning of starting to get a common language, but it literally skimmed the surface. What we really needed was a good amount of time together to actually get to the nitty gritty and start looking at a common way forward.

Skip to 1 minute and 28 seconds TEACHER 2: In a slightly different role that I have, I’ve been able to observe maths lessons and I’ve noticed discrepancies. So, for example, in science we’ll use the word average and mean interchangeably to mean the same thing. Whereas I’ve picked up from maths lessons that actually they don’t mean the same thing and a mean is a type of average, but there would be other members of my department that would have no idea.

A shared terminology

A coordinated approach with the maths department will take time, but it’s important to choose somewhere to start, break the task down into manageable chunks and to have a reasonable timescale in mind.

A good place to start is developing a common language within both the science and mathematics departments. In the video above, science teachers discuss how they draw upon a range of approaches, their own maths education and use of language, which may be different to how students experience topics in maths lessons. Having time for discussion with colleagues and lesson observations provides a starting point for their work to explore the differences.

The Language of Mathematics in Science (by Association of Science Education) aims to clarify mathematical terminology, and provides excellent stimulus for such discussions. The booklet provides guidance for teachers of 11-16 science about the use of mathematics in science lessons more broadly. It also provides teachers with an overview of all mathematics relevant to science that may be studied by students at secondary school.

Pearson Education have also produced a Guide to Maths for Scientists which provides an excellent summary of some of the common difficulties students have with key mathematical skills, as well as some of the key inconsistencies between the two subjects approaches and terminology.


Use these guides, and the inconsistencies highlighted, as the basis for an initial discussion with a colleague in the maths department about planning for a common terminology.

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Curriculum Design for Secondary School Science

National STEM Learning Centre

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