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The COVID-19 pandemic presents many opportunities to explore and develop students' civic numeracy.
The COVID-19 pandemic presents many opportunities to explore and develop students' civic numeracy. - Image ©Shutterstock.com/Christie Cooper

Six contexts for developing critical numeracy

Research 4 minute read

How can we design and teach mathematics curricula in ways that more meaningfully connect with students’ current and future lives?

In a series of articles published in Teacher, ACER Senior Research Fellow Dave Tout, education consultant and teacher Justine Sakurai, and Deakin University teacher educator Dr Carly Sawatzki discussed the importance of real-world contexts for numeracy development.

‘Students often report that the mathematics they encounter at school feels disconnected from the real world. They express their frustration via the question, “When am I going to use this?”’ write Mr Tout, Ms Sakurai and Dr Sawatzki.

The trio believe the exploration of real-world issues and problems is more valuable, satisfying and useful for students than the too frequent, often meaningless and repetitive practise of standard mathematical facts, procedures and processes.

‘Students who can see the relevance of what they are learning, and the usefulness and application of these ideas beyond the classroom, are more likely to engage with the mathematical learning process,’ they write.

Ms Sakurai, Dr Sawatzski and Mr Tout have been helping shape and write Victorian senior secondary curricula that better supports the development of critical numeracy and maths skills in school students. The proposed numeracy curriculum is framed around six numeracy contexts that are visible in students’ everyday lives:

  • personal numeracy
  • civic numeracy
  • financial numeracy
  • health numeracy
  • vocational numeracy
  • recreational numeracy

Dr Sawatzki, Mr Tout and Ms Sakurai say the contexts provide a spark or starting point for teaching and learning, allowing teachers and students to choose, adapt and investigate problems and issues that matter to them, in their setting, at that point in time.

‘The complex challenges of modern life and work necessitate that schools deliver contextualised learning opportunities,’ they write.

‘As students become numerate, they develop the ability to make considered, mathematically-informed decisions, whether they be related to personal financial matters, planning travel arrangements, understanding and interpreting big data such as with the current COVID-19 epidemic, following instructions about a health or medical matter, or understanding the personal and social implications of problematic gambling.’

Read the full articles:

‘Supporting critical numeracy and maths skills in teaching and learning’, by Dave Tout, Justine Sakurai and Carly Sawatzki, Teacher, 13 September 2021.

‘Real life numeracy contexts – the spark to ignite mathematics learning’, by Justine Sakurai, Carly Sawatzki and Dave Tout, Teacher, 7 October 2021.

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