Numeracy Specialist – I am often asked, “What is the difference between mathematics and numeracy?”
Although the difference is subtle, it is important to consider. For me, mathematics is the discrete abstract science of number, quantity and space. Numeracy, however, is something more. To be numerate means having the confidence and skill to use numbers and mathematical approaches in all aspects of life – in everyday activities at home, in our communities, in employment, as consumers, in managing our finances, as parents helping our children learn, or as patients making sense of health information. Numeracy transcends school and education as it is a way to make sense of the world around us.
So how do we as educators create numerate students?
When designing learning opportunities, it is important to keep in mind the goal is to create citizens who are numerate; therefore, the mathematics we see and do in our classrooms should be reflective of the numeracy we use in our lives. Learning experiences need to be designed so that they not only engage all learners, but the purpose of the learning is clear. We use math every day and as educators it is our job to let students experience this and make these connections for themselves. Lessons need to be designed with purpose in mind:
- Don’t just divide fractions by flipping and cross multiplying; do share out the last two pieces of cake.
- Don’t just use an abstract formula to calculate the area of a rectangle; do find out how much sod is needed for the backyard.
- Don’t just measure lines and recognize symmetry; do create symmetrical artwork or build a piece of furniture.
Students need opportunities to gain mathematical fluency, reason about mathematics and solve problems to be numerate. We have a responsibility to teach students how to efficiently use mathematical procedures, to help them become fluent with number facts and to develop strategies to solve problems. But before students ask, “Why are we learning this?” answer the question for yourself first. Does this activity develop mathematical fluency that will be used or applied? Does this task make a student reason about the math they are doing and why they are doing it? Can the student see how this problem is real or relevant to their life or circumstance?
As the Numeracy Specialist for RVS, I am fortunate to be able to work with creative, inspiring educators across the district to design engaging and purposeful learning experiences for all learners. Together through the three pillars of fluency, reasoning and problem solving, we help students become numerate and make links between the math they do in school and the world around them.