Why Maths Teachers Don’t Like Knowledge Organisers

TeacherTapp said this:

Blog 1

Blog 2

So I said this… (though I meant to say ‘knowledge’ – damnyouautocorrect ‘n all that)

Tweet 1

Then Laura said this…

Tweet 2


And so here’s my best, super-brief shot.


Point 1)  Knowledge comes in different forms

As a minimum:

  • Concepts
  • Facts
  • Processes


Point 2) Knowledge Organisers don’t really organise knowledge

They organise facts, and are very well-suited to doing so.

But they’re terrible for organising concepts and processes.


In this sense, Knowledge Organisers are really more ‘Fact Organisers‘ than Knowledge Organisers…

‘Knowledge’ Organiser suggests a broader remit than to what they’re really suited.


Point 3) Maths consists of very, very few facts

Most people think that maths is replete with factual knowledge… but actually, it’s subjects like English, the Humanities, and some sciences that are hefty in factual content.

The only maths topics, up to GCSE, where facts really make a solid appearance, are:

  • number facts
    • number bonds
    • times tables
    • prime numbers
    • square / cube numbers
    • powers of 2
  • angle facts
  • formulae (arguably)

…really, that’s about it!

Maths is super-dense with concepts, and processes, but really only very few facts.


So whenever I, as a maths teacher, tried to build some kind of Knowledge Organiser, it fell apart very quickly (except in geometry and number!)

I tried to include the kinds of knowledge that pupils need, like what a prism is, or ‘how to do X,’ and because these aren’t factual in nature, the Knowledge Organiser became convoluted, complicated, and completely useless, very quickly.


Speaking with other maths teachers who’ve tried this – and also leaders in KO heavy schools who were trying to understand whether Knowledge Organisers are really useful in maths – I’ve tended to find the same experience repeated.


So there you have it.


I don’t think maths teachers are rejecting knowledge organisers because they want freedom to focus on problem-solving…

I think they’re rejecting them because they just aren’t well suited to the kinds of knowledge that dominate mathematics.

In other words… they’re just not very good for maths!


Conversely, languages are probably the most fact-heavy subject, so it would make sense that MFL teachers ‘really like’ Knowledge Organisers.


I have no evidence to support or deny this, but maybe TeacherTapp could find a clever way to uncover some, either way…!?




Incidentally, I’m in the middle of preparing a lengthy series that plummets into this in depth.

Watch this space!


About Kris Boulton

Teach First 2011 maths teacher, focussed on curriculum design.
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11 Responses to Why Maths Teachers Don’t Like Knowledge Organisers

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  4. Colin Heydt says:

    Why would knowledge organizers be “terrible” for knowledge of concepts? On the contrary, they seem pretty well suited for that if what we aim for students to know about concepts includes definitions and key, illustrative examples.

    So, for instance, I teach philosophy in an American university. Concepts (and their relations) constitute the bulk of what philosophy professors want students to learn about. In my introduction to ethics course on blame and fault, I’ve begun using a knowledge organizer (inspired by British teachers!) to guide instruction and assessment. That knowledge organizer principally includes definitions for concepts such as blame, contempt, disgust, fault, acting negligently, acting purposely, etc.

    I don’t see any reason why concepts such as prism or opportunity cost or river delta or, even, the Enlightenment couldn’t be usefully and succinctly included on a knowledge organizer–and I say that as a specialist in early modern thought with full recognition that the Enlightenment is incredibly complicated, there might be multiple Enlightenments, etc. Just because a concept is complex and definitions/characterizations of it will be imperfect doesn’t mean we can’t present it simply to students. In fact, I think the constraint of a good knowledge organizer can be very useful in disciplining pedantic tendencies in teachers and professors. I’m genuinely curious–what’s your bad experience with concepts in knowledge organizers been?

    • Kris Boulton says:

      I agree that those concepts can be organised using some visual spatial layout.

      My comments are really aimed specifically at Knowledge Organisers as they’re currently being used / promoted by teachers in English schools.

    • Jon Fant says:

      We are looking at going down a KO route and I am making a form of knowledge organiser for maths. The goal of a knowledge organiser is to distill the key concepts onto one page. We have three to four pages for one topic at times by including the full written examples on how to solve.

      A fact can be learnt through look cover check type self quizzing. You do not learn how to perform a skill in the same way.

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