Roasting Old Chestnuts 3

Stage: 3 and 4
Article by Lyndon Baker

Here are some aspects of numeracy that someone deemed relevant in yesteryear. How such conclusions were arrived at is now largely a matter of speculation.

Perhaps many reading this, have had experience of the 'unitary method':

The unitary method

A battalion, after 5/16 of its whole strength had been disabled had 748 men left fit for duty. In a week's time 816 men were reported fit for duty.

By what fraction of its full strength was the battalion still short.

Could a problem like this be updated and utilised in today's mathematics classrooms?

Similarly, could arguments be found to include 'the double rule of three' within the new curriculum. Anyway, how powerful a tool is this notion?

The double rule of three

If 4 women working 10 hours a day for 20 days make 448 yards of fine lace, how many yards ought 9 women working 8 hours a day make in 24 days?

Or consider this - 'division in compound proportion':

Division in compound proportion

There are three partners in a business. A puts in £600 for three months, B puts in £400 for five months and C £1250 for 2 months. Profits made a total £708 15s.

How ought they to be divided

Could 'good practice' be built on this?

Or this - in approximations:


A side of a square is represented by 27.02m correct to the nearest centimetre.

Find the area and state whether it can be trusted to the nearest square metre.

It might shed some light on curriculum planning today if we knew how the curriculum of yesteryear was decided upon. Did the curriculum planners have criteria which helped them decide what was in and what was to be left out?

For that matter, perhaps the curriculum planners of today might like to say how they arrived at the present mathematics curriculum.

How was the present balance achieved? Who arrived at these conclusions?

Next month, a final look back on school days and the mathematics attempted.

On to Roasting Chesnuts IV .
For the previous articles, see Roasting Chestnuts and More Old Chestnuts .