The NRICH - Transkills Project

It has long been coming to the full attention of educators across the UK that students starting undergraduate degrees in the sciences, medicine and engineering often lack a fluency in the basic mathematical skills required to access the more quantitative aspects of their courses. This is a serious problem, and breaks down into three main strands:

1) Students do not know the required mathematics in any context.
2) Students might know the mathematical skills in a 'pure' sense but are unable to apply them in a scientific context.
3) Students are only used to solving one-step mathematical problems, and are unable to solve their way through more complicated problems involving several steps or approximations, as is often required in the application of mathematics to the sciences.

To try to help to address aspects of these problems, NRICH teamed up with the Transkills Project at Cambridge University to develop the 'transferable mathematical skills' needed by scientists in their undergraduate studies. The innovative Transkills Project was set up by the University to help boost the basic study skills across a range of disciplines needed for successful undergraduate study and NRICH was ideally suited to assist in the development of purely mathematical thinking skills.

It was decided to begin with a pilot project aimed primarily at biologists in the sixth form. The goal was

  • To develop a series of rich mathematical tasks which develop core mathematical thinking skills in a firmly biological context.
  • To ensure that the tasks are stimulating, of practical use and stimulating to those with an interest in the biological sciences.
  • To develop support materials and guides as appropriate.

The results are found on the NRICH website in an area called bioNRICH . As with all NRICH resources, these resources are freely availably to all. As the next phase of the pilot, a suite of resources called engNRICH is under development.

The project has been developed withinput from local schools and sixth form colleges; the resources have been created firmly with sixth-formers in mind, regardless of their intended university destination.