
If we begin with
the proposition (first proposed by Willis, 1992 and since adopted
by others eg. Curriculum Corporation 1998) that 'being numerate,
at the very least, is about having the competence and disposition
to use mathematics to meet the general demands of life at home,
in paid work, and for participation in community and civic life’
then numeracy is not about the acquisition of even a large number
of decontextualised mathematical facts and procedures, nor about
learning mathematics for its own sake. Rather, numeracy is about
‘practical knowledge’ – the knowledge that has its origins and/or
importance in the person’s own physical or social world rather than
in the conceptual field of mathematics itself:
This is not
to deny the importance of the conceptual field of mathematics, but
rather to suggest that it is not the same as numeracy.
This has led
to the view then that ‘numeracy is the intelligent, practical use
of mathematics in context’. (Willis,
2000)
Our
view
Based on this
definition it seems reasonable to claim that numeracy is about using
mathematics in real contexts where the purpose of the activity is
something other than (just) learning some school mathematics. For
example, life at home may involve people in shopping, budgeting,
cooking, dressmaking, designing a home addition, or buying an insurance
policy. There are limitless examples arising from work (paid and
unpaid) while participation in community and civic life might involve
a person in helping run a club, making a submission for funding
for a local project, or engaging in a sport like yachting or orienteering.
All these tasks could involve a person, to a greater or lesser extent,
in using mathematics (eg Hogan and Kemp, 1999). So numeracy is situation
specific.
Numeracy then is more than knowing and doing some
school mathematics. Very often the mathematics used in a context
is shaped by the context. It looks and feels different to the mathematics
of the mathematics classroom. There is evidence to suggest that
the mathematics learned in isolation from the contexts of its use
often remains in isolation and that people make very little use
of the routines they learned in the mathematics classroom (eg Chapman,
1988 and Boaler, 1993). There is also evidence to suggest that skills
need to be developed in the context in which they will be used (eg
Resnick 1989). So students need to experience mathematics beyond
the mathematics classroom if their mathematics is to contribute
to their numeracy.
Numeracy
development in school and other learning situations
We
take the view that the ‘real’ contexts for students’ use of mathematics
are the other school subjects they do. It is across the curriculum
that schools provide the situations that make numerate demands on
students. It is in these settings where students could be required
to use mathematics in order to complete a task, make a model, understand
a new concept or solve a problem. This is where they can experience
the use of mathematics beyond the mathematics classroom. Indeed
significant numeracy demands are made on student in all subjects
across the curriculum. Hence we need to develop insights into what
is happening for students when confronted with these learning situations,
and to develop strategies for teachers to use to help students develop
their numeracy across the curriculum.
While this site emphasises
numeracy across the curriculum we wish to acknowledge that this
doesn’t replace learning school mathematics. It is vital for students
to continue to develop sound understandings of their mathematics
curriculum. However we believe that others are doing this work and
that numeracy as we have described requires more focus.
The
above is written by John Hogan, drawn from the work of Professor
Sue Willis and supported by a number of projects the author has
worked in over the past decade.
