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Working mathematically
Working mathematically

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2  Mathematics: to know or to do?

The so-called ‘content/process’ debate in mathematics involves discussion of the relative importance of content and process in mathematics. It originated as part of a discussion about the nature of mathematics, particularly of school mathematics, and of the purposes for which mathematics is learned. Identifying content and process in mathematics draws attention to the idea that mathematics is a human activity.

As a teacher of mathematics, you are faced with a national curriculum and, at the school level, a scheme of work with short-, medium- and long-term plans. Your aim may be to help learners use mathematics to ‘make sense of their world’ and, to this end, you may wish to see them equipped with mathematical skills. But are these content skills (what mathematics they should know), or process skills (being able to tackle and solve problems), or both?

Activity 6  Content or process

Think about the distinction between the content skills and the process skills involved in learning mathematics.

Make two lists of mathematical skills: one headed ‘mathematical content’ and the other ‘mathematical process’.

What skills might each list contain?

Is it easier to write down the content skills or the process skills?


Many teachers find it easier to write down the content list because they are used to working with documents that relate to a national, regional or school curriculum.