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Durham University

School of Education

Research Projects

Plausible Estimation

A research project of the School of Education.


This project was part of the Bowland Maths initiative (see – in their introduction to the resources they articulate the rationale in producing a series of case studies to engage young students in real mathematical thinking:

There is a concern that school mathematics is not equipping young people for life in an age where the ability to think with mathematics is increasingly important. Everyday life involves mathematics and there are many areas where thinking with mathematics is essential for understanding a situation and for making good decisions. In addition, employers complain that new recruits cannot do "simple jobs" that involve quantitative reasoning.
If these concerns are to be met, the disjunction between "school maths" and the outside world needs to be bridged. The Government has been taking some action, notably in the revision of the Programmes of Study for Key Stages 3 and 4 and the recognition of the need for "functional mathematics". However, these 'new' goals were part of the intended National Curriculum since its inception - but were not realised in its implementation. 


The project is funded by the following grant.

  • Plausible Estimation (£49657.00 from The Bowland Trust)


The ‘You Reckon’ case study was developed as part of the Bowland Maths materials: the following is the introductory text which describes the case study for teachers. 

The media (and political speeches) are full of claims about how long things will take, how much things will cost and how tricky problems can be solved. The public needs to be able to judge if these claims are reasonable. You reckon? develops pupils' ability to make estimates about unusual quantities using only limited information, by posing interesting questions such as "Is it possible to provide 20% of the diesel used for road transport in the UK by growing crops on 'set aside' land?". 

You Reckon? develops mathematical thinking and requires pupils to communicate their solutions. Pupils see that the problems they are asked to solve are the same problems faced by aid agencies, governments, and salesmen! You Reckon? helps pupils to recognise the power of even simple mathematics (together with smart thinking) when making decisions about important topics.


The materials can be seen at


From the School of Education