Power to the People with Citizen Maths

Power to the people with Citizen Maths

By Seb Schmoller

About 10 million adults in Britain have gone through the education system without gaining confidence in maths at level 2, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s 2013 Survey of Adult Skills has said.

However, even if learners reach this standard, it doesn’t necessarily make them fluent in applying mathematical principles to everyday life and work.

Citizen Maths exists to overcome this challenge. It is a free, open online course with a focus on the immediate relevance of maths to the problems people face in work and life.  The course has been developed by Calderdale College, with the UCL Institute of Education, and OCR. It is funded by the charitable trust awardng body Ufi.

The course currently covers three powerful ideas in maths: proportion, uncertainty and representation, with pattern and measuring to come in 2016.  Learning about each idea is supported by a mix of short video tutorials, practical exercises and quizzes.  The powerful ideas and the situations in which they are shown have been selected in consultation with maths teachers.

Citizen Maths is likely to be of use to:

  • self-motivated adults who want to develop their grasp of maths at level 2;
  • colleges and other learning providers who want to give enrolled learners an additional or alternative  route to improving their maths;
  • teachers who want to review different approaches to teaching and learning maths;
  • parents who want to be better able to help their children with their maths, or even with Scratch, when this is being used within the computer science curriculum.

Seb Schmoller is director of Citizen Maths and former chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology

2013 Survey of Adult Skills:

Citizen Maths in action


Powerful because it underpins…

In action through…



Mixing – proportions of ingredients in a recipe


Sharing – mortgage payments in a shared house


Comparing – multi-buy offers in a supermarket


Trading off – liquid height in different-sized containers



Making decisions – value of insurance, risk comparisons


Judging – meaning of cancer-screening results


Gaming – appreciating odds in roulette, dice and the Grand National

Large and small scale effects

Modelling – weather prediction uncertainty, based in part on what’s gone on before



Analysing – polling data and sample sizes


Interpreting charts – to see how your household income relates to UK population


Inferring – conclusions from graphs and charts

Sampling and bias

Comparing – the average battery life on different mobile phones

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