Numeracy – Thoughts and Suggestions.

In September schools in Wales will have to develop a new approach to teaching numeracy across the curriculum. The national framework that has been introduced by the Welsh Government is certainly focussing the mind on developing numeracy skills in all subjects. It has certainly raised the bar in expectations. From September onwards the norm for pupils in Wales at the end of KS2 will be level 5. This is a significant difference and a great challenge. However I believe that the biggest challenge will be supporting teachers on a journey that develops numeracy skills in all subjects. My aim is to help teachers to think outside the box and encourage them to see that it is achievable.

Early years practitioners are the past masters at creating numeracy opportunities. Take a theme e.g. celebration. The number of candles on a cake is an obvious task yet they are also grouping children by birthdays i.e months of the year. To bake a cake requires a multitude of skills including weighing, measuring and of course sharing (probably the hardest skill). The journey to the corner shop can involve fantastic map work. Further map work could involve religious buildings  in the local area if the theme is developed to include weddings. The simple context of using play role to create a mock wedding could involve how many cars are required, the best shape for a cake, which tables are the best…..etc I’m sure many people will have better ideas but the point I’m making is that this has been part and parcel of the best Nursery and Reception classes for many years.

The new framework allows us to track the expected skills from beyond these ages and I believe that we mustn’t forget the opportunities and the direction that has already been set in the early years.

The following comments are from an Ofsted article on the web. It focuses on moving from good to outstanding. The link is at the bottom of the post. I do not want to cause confusion when discussing numeracy and maths but I felt that the content below provides some excellent ideas:

Ofsted 2012: Developing skills in Mathematics.

So, how would anyone know how well you are developing mathematics? Here are a few suggestions to help you to “Do the maths” in your subject. What might indicate that you are teaching and developing mathematics?:

  • Planning What are the mathematical demands of the topic you’re teaching?  Do the pupils need to be taught the skills or are they applying them in a new context? Is there any way that an understanding of maths could help students to understand or represent subject matter better?* (See lessons) E.g. a sound understanding of the concepts of length x width to calculate area, helps considerably when calculating image size and resolution when working with digital images and graphics. If there is a mathematical element to the topic or lesson – find out from the maths team how it’s taught in maths. The more consistent the approach to teaching it, the more likely it is hat the pupils will transfer the skills and remember. If a lesson requires pupils to be able to calculate percentages or draw graphs, approaching it in a way they are already familiar with will be less confusing. Check whether pupils have covered particular concepts already in maths lessons. E.g. Mean, Mode etc. If they haven’t, don’t be put of teaching them in the context of your subject, (it will probably make more sense in a real context) just check with your maths colleagues to make sure you’re in line with what they will be doing. Make sure the above is indicated in your planning documents.
  • Lessons Are the mathematical elements of the lesson made explicit, linking to work already done? * In English, ask pupils to sketch a graph to represent the emotions of a character in a story. E.g. The ups and downs of the Big Bad Wolf! (A colleague new to teaching once asked her y6 science group to do this to show how staff stress levels altered over the course of a lesson; she then brought them into the staff room for us to guess which one was ours. Very eye-opening!)Are mathematical strategies and procedures modelled by adults? How is technology used to help students understand mathematical aspects? How are pupils encouraged to reflect on the relevance of any mathematical aspects of the lesson?
  • Books/written work etc. Is there evidence of mathematical tasks related to the subject?“Try to explain using comparisons how vast the loss of life in the First World War. How many football grounds the size of Wembley would that fill? Over the course of the war, how many a day does that equate to? Create a graph or infographic to compare the loss of military lives in wars of the 20th century. Is there consistency in the way data is presented graphically across subjects?
  • The learning environment Are mathematical key words, terms and and vocabulary highlighted and used regularly in context? Are examples of mathematics in subject contexts evident? Is maths made explicit in the way for example, attendance, team points and sports results are displayed? E.g. attendance for this week was 95% meaning 95 out of every hundred  or  pupils attended for all of the time Is there consistency in the way data is presented graphically in displays?
  • Adults’ interactions with:
    • pupils Do adults speak positively about mathematics, or are statements such as” Oh, I’ve never been any good a maths!” or “I’m not a mathematician.” Accepted? Are children challenged to explain their mathematical thinking? E.g. I once witnessed a little girl proudly tell her headteacher that she only needed to get three more house points to get a certificate. The headteacher enthused and asked her “How many have you got now then?” Being unable to answer, she then went off tasked with working it out and coming back to let the headteacher know – in order to earn another one towards the total!
    • parents and carers How are they supported and encouraged to support their children with basic maths? How are they supported to develop their own confidence with maths? Are statements like “We’re no good at maths either.” challenged with encouraging responses?

If we take this a step further and link the numeracy framework into our mid term plans then we can see how many opportunities will allow themselves to develop numeracy skills. In the Juniors I often taught a theme that was inspire by a book e.g. The Iron Man, Matilda by Roald Dahl etc. With your permission, I’m going to use Matilda for another example. Again baking and cooking is an obvious choice, just consider the chocolate cake. What an excellent way to introduce fractions. The times tables with Miss Honey, how far can certain items be thrown? (Miss Trunchbull and her favourite past time), television listings (a useful tool for understanding time and chronology), graph work on favourite television programmes or favourite authors or perhaps data work based on the length of time it takes a class of pupils to finish a book, you could look at mode, mean averages and line graphs.  The choice is endless! When making numbers relevant to everyday life perhaps we could develop the entrepreneurial skills of the pupils by looking at the job of a car salesman etc as demonstrated brilliantly in the film version by Danny Devito. Again I’m sure that many of you will have superior ideas to my own however it is about making the ideas real and relevant in the classroom. Here are a few ideas, it is not a comprehensive list but a collection of thoughts on how to develop numeracy in other subjects.

Science: Measuring, weighing, number work, scales, data collection, graphing, problem solving, time, chronology, shapes and space  etc

Geography: Mapping work, populations, data work, travel costs, economies of developing countries, shapes and space, beebot activities etc

Art:Perspective,pointillism e.g Georges Seurat, use of shapes, developing 3D, photography – image setting, pixels, etc

Design Technology: Baking (we have already mentioned), designing anything involves estimation, problem solving, measuring, developing calculations and providing solutions, entrepreneurial projects etc

Music: Scale, notes, decoding, calculations, counting beats per bar, composition etc

History: Timelines, chronology, problem solving e.g. a day down the pit….how many tonnes of coal, decoding, data work and calculations etc

Religious Education: The Bible is full of numbers e.g. 66 books, 2 testaments, 12 disciples, 2×2 Noah’s Ark etc The Five Pillars of Islam, The Star of David …..shapes in religion have always been important. Collecting rubbish, recycling survey, the work of Christian Aid….

Physical Education: Shape, space, time, measuring, data work……the list is endless.

But why is this important? The best answer I have found is from Suffolk Maths.

Numeracy Across the Curriculum

Numeracy is a proficiency that involves confidence and competence with numbers and measures. It requires an understanding of the number system, a repertoire of computational skills and an inclination and ability to solve number problems in a variety of contexts. Numeracy also demands practical understanding of the ways in which information is gathered by counting and measuring, and is presented in graphs, diagrams, charts and tables.

Mathematical skills can be consolidated and enhanced when pupils have opportunities to apply and develop them across the curriculum. Poor numeracy skills, in particular, hold back pupils’ progress and can lower their self-esteem. To improve these skills is a whole-school matter. Each department should identify the contribution it makes towards numeracy and other mathematical skills so that pupils become confident at tackling mathematics in any context.

I also believe that Estyn were correct in the recommendations that they provided in their thematic report, ‘Improving numeracy KS2-KS3 April 2010’,

Schools should:

exploit opportunities for pupils to apply their numeracy skills across the curriculum;

plan carefully to make sure that pupils have learned the necessary skills in mathematics before they need them elsewhere;

support pupils who make the least progress; and

make better use of information about pupils’ achievements in numeracy when they transfer to the secondary phase

Numeracy for all is the key vision behind the new framework and it is essential in developing young adults that can cope with the demands of everyday life.

Cover of "Matilda (Full Ac3)"


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