Maths everywhere
Maths everywhere

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Maths everywhere

Maths as others see it

Video: Click to view clip on Whittington Hospital in north London

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Transcript: Whittington Hospital

Just nine minutes to go now until the news on the hour. We’ll be back straight after the break with two more records to take us to the news.
… but she’s a different girl.
She looks good.
It’s very important that we use the machine to ensure that the flow rate is correct – so that you get exactly the right amount of drug per hour.
My porters and domestics are responsible for cleaning the whole of the hospital – the theatres, the wards, the corridors … This corridor is about 75 metres long, but it’s not that simple. It’s full of little nooks and crannies that have to be accounted for. We measure them separately and come up with the total figure. I know how long it takes.
Hello, Porters.
We’ve got porters that look after the routine. Regular collection and deliveries of things like linen, refuse, medical records, the pharmacy. People that carry out those type of duties are our Logistics Team.
There’s a lot of judgement you’ve got to do in this work, because you’ve got to judge, like, where are you going to go to first, second, third, fourth and so on, and if you can’t get that right, you can’t do the job. Another role that our porters carry out is the Rapid Response Team. These people are responsible for responding quickly to calls for moving patients from A to B, occasionally for equipment as well. And also, importantly, we’ve got to maintain the cleanliness of the hospital, and that falls to our FSAs, the Facility Service Assistants. A ward area is an awkward shape – lots of nooks and crannies. It’s almost impossible to know how long it’s going to take to clean. So what I do instead is I break it down into manageable chunks. Look at each of the areas in turn and break them down as well. Hi Carlos, how’s it going?
I’m all right …
I used to have to calculate, in long hand, masses and masses of paperwork – sheets of A4. Now, I use a simple spreadsheet on a computer. The spreadsheet calculates for me the square area. At the top you can see the circulation area; that’s the corridor. That particular piece of the corridor, it’s two by two point six metres. I’ve told the computer that it takes point one seven three minutes to clean a square metre of floor area. Times the frequency – it’s cleaned seven times a week. It already knows the dimensions of the room from these two boxes. In this box I’ve put a formula that looks at all of those factors and calculates the time to clean the floor for me – just under six point three minutes. The whole thing I can put in there, and once it’s on that system it’s there for as long as I want it, and it’ll do the calculation for me every time.
Mathematics means to me numbers, figures, adding up, taking away … … Numbers, figures, graphs … … Working things out, financial things … … Numbers, numbers … … Basics … … Sums, maths, figures … … It means numbers and figures and calculations and headaches …
In my job the sort of maths I would be using are things like estimate the probability of drops in haemoglobins, calculation of drug dosages, calculation of volumes to be infused intravenously… This is the patient’s haemoglobin, measured in grams, and these are the weekly periods. So if this patient, after one week posttransfusion, starts at eleven grams, we can estimate that within a week it will drop one and half grams. So, for this particular patient, after the second week, they would have dropped to nine point five grams. So we can estimate that around this time is when we need to actually transfuse some blood into them, and then we would see the rise up again. Why don’t I send off the sample to the blood bank, we can hold it to store it, and then give me a call next week and tell me how you feel …
Yeah, alright.
… and if need be we can order a couple of pints of blood for you … Thalassaemia is a genetic disorder, which means that these patients are actually born with the disorder. From about the age of six months they don’t produce enough, or any at all, adult haemoglobin, which is essential for life. Haemoglobin carries oxygen to the body tissues, so therefore we have to replace this haemoglobin in the form of blood transfusions. And that usually means that they come to the hospital every three weeks for six to eight hours. Well, we don’t want to over-transfuse these patients, because that in itself would produce problems, so we have to estimate how the haemoglobin will drop, and ideally we’d like to transfuse when the haemoglobin is around nine point five to ten grams.
… OK, cos I can’t add the extra to this small bag …
Right you are.
… so we’ll have to give you a little bit more.
Will it be at the same time or …
It will be extended, I’m afraid. I’ll put this over the same time as the … The probability of any of your children being born with thalassaemia major is one in four, right. I’ll just illustrate it by showing you on a diagram. So, if we say that this is you – one normal gene and one thalassaemia gene and you’re perfectly normal. And then this is your wife, and likewise she is the same as you, she’s inherited just the trait. OK? So, we can work out the probability of each child being born, on whether they have a normal, a carrier, or have thalassaemia. So, if you pass on this gene, and your wife passes on this gene, then again this baby will be born like yourself as a carrier.
… when I was at school it was add and take away and that was it … … arithmetic and algebra and all that sort of thing, and geometry … … I liked mathematics at University … … I wasn’t very good at maths so – and I had a bad teacher so I didn’t enjoy it very much … … I saw it as something that was necessary … … it was probably one of the better things that I did … … at primary school and secondary school I did not like it at all … … one of the number one subjects, along with history and other things … … I didn’t like maths, because I wasn’t very good at it … … well I think it was good in school, when I was in school many, many moons ago …
… I found it quite an intense subject and a rather boring subject, I have to say …
I’ve got two hours to play with each week, and while it’s down to myself what goes into those two hours, you have obviously got to be quite disciplined with how you distribute your time. We’ve got certain reference points within those two hours, those being the news on the hour, which we can’t change, it’s always on the hour, and we’ve also got the advertising as well. Adverts pay the bills, so we can’t move them around. So they’re always at quarter past and quarter to. So, really, we’re trying to organise the music, which is the core of the programme, around those reference points. And in terms of going towards the news and hitting those reference points that I’ve got, you want to be going with a track which you pretty much know how long it’s going to last for. It’s not going to be too short and it’s going to have a sort of ending which is quite a long run out, we call it. And that basically means I’ve got the flexibility that if I’m sort of twenty seconds over I can fade it out, it doesn’t make a lot of difference – I’m losing no vocals. Or if I’ve got to spin some more time out I’ll just leave it running. So that helps us out quite a lot. And that’s for Helen on Mercer Ward. She’s due out today. She’s looking forward to getting home and seeing her cat. So, Helen, nice to have you with us. Hope we don’t see you again, but I really do hope you enjoyed your stay.
… I use maths as part of my everyday life, in work, at home … … I’m using maths in the way of measurements, I suppose everyday … … A lot of the work we do involves figures. You know, even your cost of living, working out how much mortgage you’ve got to pay and the rest of it … … I’ve got two children so when they’re at school they bring their homework home and I have to help them with that … … It’s more of the domestic side of my life where mathematics comes in … … If you’re talking about measurements, estimating, quantifying, then I suppose I would say I use maths … … Every single hour probably. Maths is part of life …
The term ‘mathematician’ means to me a mathematics professional, so somebody who actually maybe teaches maths or studies maths at university or whatever. So I wouldn’t consider myself to be a mathematician. But, on reflection, I probably am somebody who uses maths day to day, and if that’s a mathematician then I think we’re a nation of mathematicians …
Yes, I do use mathematics in my daily life, and if that’s how you would perceive mathematics, then yes I suppose I am a mathematician …
Well, if you say that what I’m doing makes me a mathematician, then I’ll take that as a compliment. Thanks very much.
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Whittington Hospital
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Activity 4

This video clip was recorded in the Whittington Hospital in north London. You will see a series of short sequences in which people respond to questions concerning their own views of mathematics. However, the clip also shows extended sequences in which three people (pictured below) talk about their work in the hospital.

Figure 1.5
Trevor Arnold, hotel services manager
Emma Prescott, Thalassaemia nurse specialist
Emma Prescott, Thalassaemia nurse specialist
Figure 1.7
Mark Hanson, hospital radio DJ
  1. As you watch and listen to Trevor, Emma and Mark, make a note of mathematical ideas to which they refer.

    • What mathematical skills and ideas do they use?

    • Do you think they are consciously using mathematics?

  2. As you listen, make a note of any responses about people's view of mathematics which strike you as unusual or particularly interesting.

    • Are the responses similar to your own?

    • Do these responses seem to you typical of the population as a whole?

  3. When the clip has finished look back over the notes you have made and check to see whether you have answered the questions above. If necessary view any parts of the video band again and add to your notes. Also think about the pros and cons of using video in this way.


  1. Trevor Arnold talks about the need to estimate and measure distances, areas and times. The spreadsheet he created uses hidden formulas which instruct the computer to carry out the routine calculations that he previously did by hand.

    Emma Prescott uses mathematics to help her estimate the drop of haemoglobin levels in her patients. By recording how far levels have fallen, she is able to predict when the next blood transfusion will be necessary. She also calculates necessary drug dosages and volumes of intravenous infusions. She uses probability when explaining the likelihood of passing on the disease to a patient's offspring. You will have seen her twice using simple diagrams to convey mathematical ideas—an important theme of this course.

    Although Mark Hanson is not consciously using mathematics, he is using a range of mathematical skills as he schedules the time he has available, estimates the lengths of record tracks, subtracts them from the time available, and so on.

  2. When first asked about their attitudes to mathematics, the responses were fairly varied; some people had positive memories of school mathematics while others disliked it or found it boring. You may also have noticed that at the beginning of the videotape most people viewed maths in a rather narrow way—in fact, they tended to see it simply as basic arithmetic applied to everyday situations. As the video unfolds, these perceptions of mathematics became extended. Indeed, all the hospital workers interviewed were prepared, by the end, to think of their jobs more mathematically than they had at the beginning of the video.

    Whether or not the views expressed are similar to yours, they may well seem to be typical of the population as a whole. However, this is just a small selection of people and it was not chosen as a representative sample of the whole population. They all came from one particular hospital in one particular area in London. Can you be sure that people's views of mathematics are not influenced by the circumstances of the interview or the nature of their job or the area in which they live?

  3. You may care to read again the comments about using video that were given before Activity 4.


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