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Numeracy Across the Curriculum (NAC)

March 18, 2012

My school is having a focus on Literacy Across the Curriculum (LAC) and this is something that I have no intention of arguing with. In maths there are many times when being literate matters such as in speaking and listening skills alongside the more obvious writing of your conjectures, explaining your thinking and also reading other people’s thoughts and exam questions. So, I’m happy with LAC and I think my faculty does it reasonably well although there are still some parts to work on. It’s also a fairly easy sell to most teachers. The picture is of my daughter’s bookcase and I think this is reasonably representative of the view that reading is VITAL to being a successful person. However, what is the equivalent of this bookcase for numeracy?
I’m sort of assuming that soon my school will want to focus on NAC and I’m just trying to think of things that might help in the implementation of that. Here are some of my early thoughts…
1) In a similar way to expecting teachers to use correct punctuation (think of apostrophes) we should expect them to use correct mathematical words. From my experience, this often means words for shapes. It’s NOT a diamond, it’s a rhombus. It’s not an ‘upside-down triangle’, it’s just a triangle. If you’re making or playing a board game, only call them squares if they actually are square (otherwise ‘spaces’ would be more appropriate).
2) BIDMAS actually matters. If a teacher reinforces to students that 1 + 3 x 8 = 32 then they’re really not helping.
3) Teachers should learn that there are different types of average and that being above or below ‘average’ may actually signify different things. (If we were really serious about this, we’d encourage teachers to get an understanding of standard deviation – but that’s a separate matter).
4) Teachers obviously shouldn’t pretend that maths exists in areas of their subject where it doesn’t but, when it does they should actually make something of it.

And probably the biggest of all:
5) Under no circumstances as an adult go anywhere near suggesting any of the following:
a) You don’t like maths (If you think that’s the case, then chances are you have very little idea of what maths is really about and your schooling in it was less than inspiring),
b) Maths is hard and can only be understood (or even enjoyed) by clever people and nerds,
c) That you are afraid of maths and avoid it at all costs. For example, if you don’t know how to find a total for your course which is 40% exam and 60% coursework then you really should find out. Ask to be taught how to do it if necessary.

This isn’t intended as a rant and I would like to be in a position to give practical advice to staff when the need arises.
I’d really appreciate your thoughts and suggestions as to what steps will help to make good Numeracy Across the Curriculum.


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  1. ceejaypee permalink

    Indeed. Whilst marking in the staffroom recently (kicked out of my room again!!) the humanities and music PGCE students were having a real moan about the Numeracy QTS tests and that the practice tests online were all gobbledegook and they couldn’t see the relevance. Highly irritating given these are graduate level people who cannot equate an eighth to 12.5% and consider it irrelevant. Considering every school’s near obsession with numerical levels and tracking this is worrying!We are probably the subject that suffers most in this respect, I have overheard lots of teachers saying to students that their maths was rubbish, and to ask a maths teacher. Gives out the wrong message about the Grade "C" or above that we tell them to aim for being such an important "fork in the road". I wouldn’t dream of telling my students that I cant remember who Hitler was, or that I cant remember the biology I was taught…

  2. Anonymous permalink

    I agree that it’s a massive problem. Even on Bang Goes the Theory last night one of the presenters was less than enthusiastic about maths!I still intend to say that I can’t really read to the next person that says they’re awful at maths. I wonder how that will go down?

  3. srcav permalink

    I inadvertantly sparked a drive on Venn Diagrams in our school when I went to observe a deputy head teach and english lesson, and he had a task which involved pupils sorting statements into 3 coloumns, "book", "Film" or "both". I quipped afterwards "You have missed a fantastic opportunity for numeracy across the curriculum, where were your Venn Diagrams?!"I also brief my classes that "when science tell you to take and average, you must always check which average they mean", which has annoyed one of the science staff, but as i told him, its pointless me teaching them average means mean, median or mode, if they are told elsewhere there is only one average.I also think that history and geography lend themselves well to numeracy, charts and graphs can be utilised well in those subjects and they can do some analysis on figures to see percentage change in death rates etc.

  4. Anonymous permalink

    Hi scrav,I like the point about Venn diagrams. I’m sure they could be used more by other subjects.Another good point about science too. I’m going to try and arrange a meeting with some of my science department to talk about a common approach to graphs, averages and range.thanks for the comments.

  5. srcav permalink

    Hi Dave, An interesting project we are running at the moment is "teaching maths through…" A number of the maths team are paired up with members of other subjects looking at teaching maths through their subject.I’m working with a scientist and we’re lacking algebra by looking at combustion equations. I’m not sure what each of the others are doing, but there is an exciting lesson brewing by my colleague and a member of the art department who are looking teaching transformations through the medium of art.

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