The Language of Mathematics in Science – a review

“The Language of Mathematics in Science – A Guide for Teachers of 11-16 Science” is a best selling book (Dower, 2017) which can be downloaded free from the ASE website or purchased as a hard copy. What follows is a review based on my personal “best bits”.

The aim of the book is to offer consistency in terminology between the two subjects of Mathematics and Science.

I common problem I see as a science teacher is relating to rounding of numbers generated using a calculator when student write out every digit from the calculator display. The book advises the rule should be to use the same number of significant figures as the measured (or supplied) value with the least number of figures in the calculation. This I will now incorporate onto worksheets I generate or edit. Closely related is the issue of students recording reoccurring decimals using a dots over the relevant digits. This should be avoided by using the aforementioned rounding rule.

The book offers advice on the multiplication of numbers in standard form, by stressing that this can be simplified by doing the multiplication of the powers of 10 separately and mentally (by adding the powers) and doing the other numbers (i.e. the “first numbers” in the form one digit to the left of the decimal place) on a calculator. This is easy advice to apply in the science classroom.

I find that drawing graphs as part of a science lesson produces responses a range of responses from “How do I start?” to fully complete and correctly draw graphs (from pupils of comparable science ability). The book under review offers a full chapter on graph drawing, giving step by step guidance. I intend to utilise this information to make a student friendly guide which I can imagine will be useful for KS3 and KS4 students as a full lesson or as an aid in science lessons. Something I picked up as a useful use of terminology is to use “main division” and “sub-division” rather than “big squares” and “little squares” respectively.

The book also confirms a long held belief of mine that using “magic triangles” to assist with the rearrangement of equations is poor practice because as a technique it does not promote real understanding for students.

The book ends with a glossary of mathematical key words which I intend to turn into flash cards and / or domino game which could be used as part of a science lesson with a high mathematical content.

I summary, I highly recommend this book.



Dower, P., (2017), Education in Science, 267, p5.


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