Structure of Mathematical Methods

Structure of Mathematical Methods

Mathematical Methods is organised into four units. The topics broaden students’ mathematical experience and provide different scenarios for incorporating mathematical arguments and problem solving. The units provide a blending of algebraic and geometric thinking. In this subject there is a progression of content, applications, level of sophistication and abstraction. The probability and statistics topics lead to an introduction to statistical inference.

Unit 1 Unit 2 Unit 3 Unit 4
Functions and graphs
Trigonometric functions
Counting and probability
Exponential functions
Arithmetic and geometric sequences and series
Introduction to differential calculus
Further differentiation and applications
Discrete random variables
The logarithmic function
Continuous random variables and the normal distribution
Interval estimates for proportions


Unit 1 begins with a review of the basic algebraic concepts and techniques required for a successful introduction to the study of functions and calculus. Simple relationships between variable quantities are reviewed, and these are used to introduce the key concepts of a function and its graph. The study of probability and statistics begins in this unit with a review of the fundamentals of probability, and the introduction of the concepts of conditional probability and independence. The study of the trigonometric functions begins with a consideration of the unit circle using degrees and the trigonometry of triangles and its application. Radian measure is introduced, and the graphs of the trigonometric functions are examined and their applications in a wide range of settings are explored.

In Unit 2, exponential functions are introduced and their properties and graphs examined. Arithmetic and geometric sequences and their applications are introduced and their recursive definitions applied. Rates and average rates of change are introduced, and this is followed by the key concept of the derivative as an ‘instantaneous rate of change’. These concepts are reinforced numerically (by calculating difference quotients), geometrically (as slopes of chords and tangents), and algebraically. This first calculus topic concludes with derivatives of polynomial functions, using simple applications of the derivative to sketch curves, calculate slopes and equations of tangents, determine instantaneous velocities, and solve optimisation problems.

In Unit 3, the study of calculus continues by introducing the derivatives of exponential and trigonometric functions and their applications, as well as some basic differentiation techniques and the concept of a second derivative, its meaning and applications. The aim is to demonstrate to students the beauty and power of calculus and the breadth of its applications. The unit includes integration, both as a process that reverses differentiation and as a way of calculating areas. The fundamental theorem of calculus as a link between differentiation and integration is emphasised. Discrete random variables are introduced, together with their uses in modelling random processes involving chance and variation. The purpose here is to develop a framework for statistical inference.

In Unit 4, the logarithmic function and its derivative are studied. Continuous random variables are introduced and their applications examined. Probabilities associated with continuous distributions are calculated using definite integrals. In this unit students are introduced to one of the most important parts of statistics, namely statistical inference, where the goal is to estimate an unknown parameter associated with a population using a sample of that population. In this unit, inference is restricted to estimating proportions in two-outcome populations. Students will already be familiar with many examples of these types of populations.

Organisation of achievement standards

The achievement standards in Mathematics have been organised into two dimensions: ‘Concepts and Techniques’ and ‘Reasoning and Communication’. These two dimensions reflect students’ understanding and skills in the study of mathematics.

Senior secondary achievement standards have been written for each Australian Curriculum senior secondary subject. The achievement standards provide an indication of typical performance at five different levels (corresponding to grades A to E) following the completion of study of senior secondary Australian Curriculum content for a pair of units. They are broad statements of understanding and skills that are best read and understood in conjunction with the relevant unit content. They are structured to reflect key dimensions of the content of the relevant learning area. They will be eventually accompanied by illustrative and annotated samples of student work/ performance/ responses.

The achievement standards will be refined empirically through an analysis of samples of student work and responses to assessment tasks: they cannot be maintained a priori without reference to actual student performance. Inferences can be drawn about the quality of student learning on the basis of observable differences in the extent, complexity, sophistication and generality of the understanding and skills typically demonstrated by students in response to well-designed assessment activities and tasks.

In the short term, achievement standards will inform assessment processes used by curriculum, assessment and certifying authorities for course offerings based on senior secondary Australian Curriculum content.

ACARA has made reference to a common syntax (as a guide, not a rule) in constructing the achievement standards across the learning areas. The common syntax that has guided development is as follows:

  1. Given a specified context (as described in the curriculum content)
  2. With a defined level of consistency/accuracy (the assumption that each level describes what the student does well, competently, independently, consistently)
  3. Students perform a specified action (described through a verb)
  4. In relation to what is valued in the curriculum (specified as the object or subject)
  5. With a defined degree of sophistication, difficulty, complexity (described as an indication of quality)

Terms such as ‘analyse’ and ‘describe’ have been used to specify particular action but these can have everyday meanings that are quite general. ACARA has therefore associated these terms with specific meanings that are defined in the senior secondary achievement standards glossary and used precisely and consistently across subject areas.

Role of technology

It is assumed that students will be taught the Senior Secondary Australian Curriculum: Mathematics subjects with an extensive range of technological applications and techniques. If appropriately used, these have the potential to enhance the teaching and learning of mathematics. However, students also need to continue to develop skills that do not depend on technology. The ability to be able to choose when or when not to use some form of technology and to be able to work flexibly with technology are important skills in these subjects.