June 10, 2023

How do maths do it?

This year we sat in our department meeting, with the Energy topic looming, you know the one – the one with all those equations! We started to think.

Now, I’m not shy to teaching equations, all science teachers have struggled through at some point. However, the thing with equations (and maths in general) is that everyone has their own way of doing it.

Okay – so you can do it… so what. Can your students? This has caused me issues in the past, as a student joins my class and I teach them my way, and I get: 

“But Ms X does it this way”

It may work for them but I haven’t a clue how to do it. And in my opinion, it’s not the best method… but the students have spent years learning it that way so it’s difficult to change their mind. 

So, lets first ensure that your entire department is teaching the same method. (It doesn’t really matter what method. We all have our favourite.) If the method is the same, whatever teacher they have in subsequent years or if they move classes, they do not have to learn something new! 


The dreaded re-arranging. How do you do it? Do you use triangles? (The answer to that, for me, is a categorical no). What method are you going to use? What is best for the students?

Here’s what we did:

Now, I don’t know about your school, but in mine we have an incredibly strong maths department. The other great thing is that they’re also all delightfully lovely people. 

We talked to our maths department. How do THEY re-arrange. What do they do? Ask a maths teacher to teach you their method. What language do they use? How does it look in their students’ book?

When I started doing what maths doing my mind was blown. The kids took to it like a duck to water. They knew what my language meant; they knew the method. They just had to use different numbers and different letters. For those who struggled, I got them to substitute their unknown as X and not I (current) for example, and it clicked. 

In return, we asked maths if when they were teaching equations, they would use the physics equations we were using at the time. It allowed them to understand the process using all letters, not just X. 

If you haven’t standardised your equation method and discussed it with your maths department, I would strongly urge you to. It has dramatically improved our lives (as well as the maths dept lives). Symbiosis.

Side note: We could argue that the physics equations are more than maths problems… but let’s not for now…

Featured photo by Clayton Robbins on Unsplash

Rich Gill is a Science teacher from the south of England teaching Physics and Biology (I know, what a weirdo). He has a keen interest in all things teaching and learning, and has far too many books on his “to read” list. He’ll get there someday…

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