Mainly for teachers. A discussion and examples of some of the
school mathematics of yesteryear.
What was it like to learn maths at school in the Victorian period?
We visited the British Schools Museum in Hitchin to find out.
Published April 2000,February 2011.
In preparing the talk "Let's look forwards by glancing back" I
had been keen to include a problem that had beset me during my
adolescence. I vaguely remembered it was from Durrell. But in those
schoolboy days mathematics was Durrell, first and last. It was only
later that Porter, Quadling and Ramsey would take over hours of my
After some searching I had unearthed the book and found the very
question that all those years ago my father and I had agonised
over. My memory may have been playing tricks but I found myself
reconstructing my original points of view and then
At the time father was right and I was wrong. See how you get
A bath has two taps A, B and an outlet C. With A turned on, it
fills in 15 minutes; with A and B turned on, it will fills in 10
min. ; with B turned on and C opened, the water-level remains
How long will it take to fill the bath with A turned on and C
Another practice from my early schooldays had been that whenever
a lesson ended early, revision of long multiplication and division
was the order of the day.
Calculators had not been dreamed of and those early fumblings
with a slide rule did little to reassure. Especially when accuracy
So, at the first lull in the talk the following was put on the
82164973 by 3037
62015735 by 7803
How did you get on? Sorry, no answers at the end of this
About half way through the talk consideration was given to how
successive mathematics curricula were arrived at. During much of
the twentieth century, school mathematics was believed to have been
socially and culturally underpinned.
How does yesteryear compare with today?
Nowadays, many cynics believe that political considerations and
financial restraints are the limiting factors of expedience.
Whatever, the audience was asked to consider what sort of social
conditions might have prevailed when Alligation was done regularly
in our schools:
A grocer mingled 4 cwt. of sugar at 56s. per cwt., 7cwt. at 43s.
per cwt. and 5 cwt. at 37s. per cwt.
I demand the price of 2 cwt. of this mixture
A grocer would mix raisons of the sun at 7d. per lb. with
Malagas at 6d. and Smyrnas at 4d. per lb.
I desire to know what quantity of each sort he must take to sell
them 5d. per lb.?
Perhaps there is a need to remind many of you of the measures in
12d to the shilling (s). (12 old pennies)
20s to the pound (£).
112 lb (pounds) to the hundredweight (cwt)!
20 cwt to the ton.
Some aspects of numeracy,
(perhaps best forgotten! )are included in the next article