Experiences of learning mathematics
Experiences of learning mathematics

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Experiences of learning mathematics

1.3 Designing alternative programmes and curricula

Assuming that both the content of mathematics and the processes need to be included in programmes and curricula, the problem becomes one of how a suitable curriculum can be structured. One possibility is to construct a very specific curriculum with clearly defined objectives for both content and processes separately, and possibly with suggested learning activities. However, content and process are two complementary ways of viewing the subject.

An alternative is to see the curriculum in a two-dimensional array with content areas drawn against processes; to use a weaving metaphor, one can be thought of as the weft and the other the warp. The five major content areas (number, algebra, measurement, geometry, statistics) and the six key processes (problem-solving, mathematical modelling, reasoning, communicating, making connections, using tools) would therefore form the thirty combinations indicated in the matrix below

Table 1 The Content/Process Matrix

Number Algebra Measures Geometry Statistics
Using tools

Task 7 Using a content/process matrix

What is your initial response to this matrix?

Think of a recent mathematics lesson. What was the content of that lesson? Can you identify any mathematical processes that the pupils used during the lesson (you will need to look again at the Appendix to remind yourself of the detail of these processes)?

Click on the link below to open 'Processes uncovered'. With thanks to Begg, A. (1994/1996) in Neyland, J. (ed) Mathematics Education: A Handbook for Teachers, Volume 1, Masterton nz: Wairarapa Education Resource Centre / Reston va: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics,(pp. 183–1920)

Processes uncovered [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]


Some teachers (and pupils) find it difficult to identify mathematical processes, particularly modelling and connecting. This course is designed to help you become aware of a range of mathematical processes and to consider how they can be used to encourage learning

It may help you to look back at the Appendix when you are working on later tasks in this course. Try to be aware of the mathematical processes you are using as well as the more obvious areas of mathematical content involved.

Task 8 Reading

Read the article Paul Bunyan versus the Conveyor Belt by W. H. Upson. While you are reading, note down your reactions to it.

Click on the link below to read Paul Bunyan versus the Conveyor Belt. With thanks fo W. H. Upson

Paul Bunyan versus the Conveyor Belt


The article shows a clear link between the way mathematics can be used to solve an everyday problem. But it is this link between school mathematics and everyday life that many pupils find problematic. Articles like this one can be a useful catalyst for motivating pupils and encouraging classroom discussion and investigation.

When you were reading the article you might have also been aware of how you could use it with your pupils. If you felt it inappropriate to read the article in full to your pupils you could summarise the story. Using articles and stories in this way can provide useful examples of the links between everyday life and mathematics.

Task 9 Process

Look back at the article and work out what processes Bunyan used when working on the conveyor belt problem. List them in your notebook; you will need these later.

So far you have read an article - that is, you have done something. You have also recorded some notes about what you read. You may also have talked to yourself in order to understand the article more clearly. As you will see in the final section of the course, these three elements form a useful framework for helping you to think about pupil learning. It will be referred to as the do-talk-record triad, or simply, DTR.

Simply reading words on a page does not mean that you have necessarily engaged with the mathematical ideas or done any mathematical thinking. In order to help you work on the ideas in a ‘hands-on’ way, you are asked to model the conveyor belt problem using a physical model.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has nearly 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus