How is mathematics used in the world of work?


The broad conclusion of [research] studies is that most adults use mathematics to make sense of situations in ways that differ quite radically from those of the formal mathematics of school, college and professional training. Rather than striving for consistency and generality, which is stressed by formal mathematics, problem-solving at work is characterised by pragmatic goals to solve particular problems, using techniques that are quick and efficient for these problems.” (Hoyles, Noss, Kent and Bakker, 2010)

This extract by mathematics education researchers highlights that although we might argue, when discussing the use of mathematics in workplaces, with students that mathematics can be applied in many different situations including workplaces this is not totally without problems. As an example they go on to explain…

“We observed nurses calculating drug dosages in hospital wards, often in life-critical situations. They had been taught general calculation methods that trainers regarded as ‘efficient’. In practice, however, these were not used being repaved by drug- and patient type-specific rules that derived meaning from the situation, such as the nature of the drug, the volume of the phial in which the drug was stored, while working within constraints.”

Here we provide a tool that illustrates  what mathematics looks like when being used in just a few workplaces . Use this tool with your group so that they have some insight into this issue. It may be best to consider this question before  thinking about how to connect classroom learning of mathematics to the world of work.

Tool WA-1: Mathematics in the world of work

This will enable the group to start thinking about how mathematics is used in the workplace and how this is different from mathematics in school.


Hoyles, C., Noss, R., Kent, P., & Bakker, A. (2010). Improving mathematics at work: The need for techno-mathematical literacies. Routledge.