Use of the Environment in Numeracy
Numeracy encompasses the ability to use mathematical understanding and skills to solve problems and meet the demands of day-to-day living in complex social settings.
(Literacy & Numeracy for Learning and Life 2011, p.8)
Mathematics expresses itself everywhere, in almost every facet of life – in nature all around us, and in the technologies in our hands. Mathematics is the language of science and engineering – describing our understanding of all that we observe.
Today buzz words such as 21st Century skills and Metacognition (learning to learn) are being emphasised on an increasing basis. The question I pose is how can teachers integrate these skills in their own classrooms to prepare pupils for the future.
One area where Maths in school can come into difficulty is when it is not seen as relevant, interesting or fun for students. The Literacy and Numeracy Strategy (2011) places emphasis on Mathematical Understanding and skill development for life long learning and cultivation of active participants in society.
How can we make Maths more relevant and fun for our students? Use our environment and develop Maths Eyes.
Many schools are currently working on School Self Evaluation Reports and School Improvement Plans focusing on either Literacy and Numeracy. Maths in the Environment is a very relevant point to consider when devising these documents.
What actions can schools make towards developing use of the environment in their teaching of Maths?
- Develop Maths Trails: Instead of devising a trail around the school grounds why not bring the outside world into the classroom through the use of technology. Many national and local restaurants now publish their menus and prices online, shops such as Lidl, Aldi and SuperValu provide us with e-copies of their latest special offers, timetables for trains and bus services can be easily accessed online and mapping websites such as Google Maps can now estimate journey times by car, by foot, by train or by bicycle with traffic updates available in urban areas. Scoilnet Maps also provides great opportunities for developing maths trails. We can convert currency at the click of a button on websites such as XE.com and when all else fails we can consult YouTube for any query we have that may need a visual explanation. As adults we use these sites constantly in our daily lives and yet when we think of what it means to be numerate we tend to think of the copy full of sums and the class Maths textbook.
- Use Have you Got Maths Eyes Website: This Irish website gives teachers, parents and pupils a myriad of resources on how to develop Maths Eyes, in other words a lens through which the can see Maths in their environment at their level of intellectual development. Traditional methods of mathematics teaching and learning have resulted in a maturing population who do not appreciate the mathematics they use in their everyday lives. These ‘everyday’ mathematics skills often involve the use of complicated mathematical ideas and techniques. However, many people often consider the mathematics they can do as ‘common sense’ and the tasks they can’t do as ‘mathematics’. The idea behind this initiative was to show that everyone has Maths Eyes, they just need to be opened and to see Maths as part of their daily lives and to empower people and build their confidence in their own Maths knowledge and skills. As a teacher the area of attitude to Maths and confidence in Mathematical thinking plays a critical role in progression in along the spectrum of becoming numerate. This lack of confidence can be passed on from one generation to the next where parents see themselves as not being ‘good at Maths’ and so their child is also destined for the same fate. The website is packed full of information including fantastic poster packs , a resource pack, Maths Week Poster Competition and information on GeoGebra.
- Use of ICT to document Maths in the Environment: To put this simply this third element is used for all elements of developing Maths Eyes. Children find the Maths in their environment, use their handheld device such as a tablet or camera to video or photograph their chosen subject for Maths Eyes and devise questions for their peers based on what they see. So many teachers, myself included go out into local areas and photograph the local area and use these pictures in school. IT is far more meaningful for pupils to choose their own topic perhaps from their home or a familiar place they visit and create their own Maths questions. These can then be put together using Powerpoint, Splashtop or Educreations. They can make movies using Animoto or iMovie to bring their Maths Eyes projects to life creating personalised Maths Trails.