Mathematics is a human endeavour that has developed by practice and theory from the dawn of civilisation to the present day. Many societies and cultures have contributed to the growth of mathematics, often in times of scientific, technological, artistic and philosophical change and development. Complementary to this broad perspective of mathematics are the various mathematical practices that take place day to day in communities around the world.
While the usefulness of mathematics for modelling and problem solving is well known, mathematics also has a fundamental role in enabling cultural, social and technological advances, and empowering individuals as critical citizens in contemporary society and for the future. Number, space and measurement, chance and data are common aspects of most people’s mathematical experience in everyday personal, study and work situations. Equally important are the essential roles that mathematical structure and working mathematically play in people’s understanding of the natural and human worlds.
Mathematics can be described in terms of its objects, what they are and how they came to be; its established body of knowledge and why this is held to be true; its effective application in science, technology and other domains; and the practice and activities of mathematicians past and present. Aims for essential learning in school mathematics are for students to:
- demonstrate useful mathematical and numeracy skills for successful general employment and functioning in society
- solve practical problems with mathematics, especially industry and work-based problems
- develop specialist knowledge in mathematics that provides for further study in the discipline
- see mathematical connections and be able to apply mathematical concepts, skills and processes in posing and solving mathematical problems
- be confident in one’s personal knowledge of mathematics, to feel able both to apply it, and to acquire new knowledge and skills when needed
- be empowered through knowledge of mathematics as a numerate citizen, able to apply this knowledge critically in societal and political contexts
- develop understanding of the role of mathematics in life, society and work; the role of mathematics in history; and mathematics as a discipline – its big ideas, history, aesthetics and philosophy.
Mathematical knowledge includes knowledge of concepts, objects, definitions and structures. A small collection of mathematical ideas, objects, structures, and relationships between these, is taken as undefined and given in a context. New mathematical objects, structures and relationships are developed from these moving from simple to more complex and sophisticated ideas and practices. The motivation for accepting certain things as given building blocks for mathematical knowledge may be initially related to intuitive understanding of particular ideas and objects experienced with respect to the natural or human worlds. These and their subsequent developments are not empirical knowledge, but abstract mathematical entities.
Whether mathematical knowledge is viewed as being essentially mind dependent or mind independent, discovered or constructed, its abstract nature gives rise to the applicability of mathematics in a wide range of contexts, as mathematical objects, structures and relationships do not depend on a particular context for their existence, but are interpreted to model key features of these contexts. This abstraction poses a challenge to the teacher and student alike, and both will need to draw on knowledge of the world and link this to mathematical knowledge and its application in various situations.
Mathematical reasoning and thinking underpins all aspects of school mathematics, including problem posing, problem solving, investigation and modelling. It encompasses the development of algorithms for computation, formulation of problems, making and testing conjectures, and the development of abstractions for further investigation.
Computation and proof are essential and complementary aspects of mathematics that enable students to develop thinking skills directed toward explaining, understanding and using mathematical concepts, structures and objects. They provide a framework for the development of mathematical skills and techniques exemplified in the use of algorithms for computation and for the development of general case arguments.