I read the news today. Oh Boy!

11/09/2008 09:25:00 am

That's the subtitle of my latest remix of my Numeracy across the Curriculum workshop. I was invited to speak to the staff of Chris Harbeck's school on Friday morning. The entire presentation (slides, audio, video) is archived on the wiki that supports this workshop. I've included lots of other links and resources for teachers. If you know of anything I should have included or should work in for next time please let me know.

This is one of the most difficult talks I've ever given. How can teachers, in this case k thorough grade 9 (students aged 5 to 14), weave the teaching of numeracy into their regular curriculum; teachers of English, Practical Arts, Social Studies, Art, Music, and Elementary teachers who do it all?

At one point in the slides you'll see The Hidden Problem is highlighted. The hidden problem is two-fold but the aspect of it I find most troublesome is not the one that was talked about in the research I read. (Links embedded in the slides.) Listen to the bit where I talk about the dinner party in the second half of this excerpt from Chris' Ustream:

14 minutes 5 seconds

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  1. I'm against the idea of teachers trying to teach numeracy, because it doesn't work. In the UK, back in the 70s there was a grand plan to teach maths through every subject, and it failed, for various reasons.
    We also tried:
    English across the curriculum;
    ICT across the curriculum;
    Economic literacy across the curriculum.

    All of these initiatives were failures, but we never seem to learn from our mistakes. What is needed to teach numeracy across the curriculum is not the piling on of yet more work to non-maths teachers, but an increase in the number of expert maths teachers.

    To be honest, I haven't looked at your slides in their entirety, and I found the ustream video difficult to hear, so if I have gone off at a complete tangent I apologise.

    I agree that numeracy is an essential skill and that people should feel ashamed of being innumerate.

    A great headline in a highbrow British newspaper a few years back read:

    "49% (that's nearly half) of people don't understand statistics"

  2. You seem to equate numeracy with mathematics. They are related but not the same.

    To be numerate you need to know some mathematics but teaching numeracy across the curriculum doesn't mean language teachers should touch on fractions; although music teachers probably should. ICT teachers should probably not touch on exponential functions or the the number phi, unless they teach digital photography or presentation/slide design in which case phi lies at the heart of what is known as the rule of thirds. Economics teachers should probably not touch on derivatives or rates of change (slopes of lines), unless they plot something like GDP over time and want to understand when we're in a recession and when we're not (the slope of that line — which is probably not the terminology an Economics teacher would use to describe this, too bad really, cross curricular connections contextualize learning in both disciplines — would have to be negative over two quarters).

    At no point do I advocate for non-math teachers to teach mathematics. Rather, I hold that all teachers should foster an appreciation for number sense and thinking about statistics and probability. Sadly, our culture seems to honour, even celebrate, innumeracy. Changing this is difficult and the people on the front lines are parents and teachers. Their attitudes are contagious. They should strive to model attitudes that are worth catching.

  3. my definition of numeracy or mathematics is our reason, logic, etc. processed into number. math is reason on paper. if we teach our children or get them to understand this concept, their appreciation for math will go up. im all for it.

  4. One of the things I touched on in this presentation was our apparent cultural pride in being innumerate. We typically think "numeracy = mathematics" but it doesn't. It's a way of thinking that may involve using paper but not necessarily.

    It's about more than learning the math you need to do your job. It's about being comfortable thinking about issues that have a foundation in mathematics; being able to think statistically and probabilistically.

    It's about being able to recognize the patterns and geometry in the world around us where beauty emerges ... and perhaps a whole lot more.