Wikipedia defines numeracy as “the ability to reason and to apply simple numerical concepts.” The website links the definitions of numeracy and mathematical literacy indicating that these terms are interchangeable. Indeed I believe most people would see these terms as one and the same. I think the true differences in opinion is not in the word used but in the definition of “simple numerical concepts.” What is simple to one person is not so simple to another. I think many would agree that it is important to be able to tackle a problem with the mathematics one knows is an important aspect of any definition of numeracy.
It is important to examine the type of problem which would be considered a numeracy problem. Many of the questions in a math textbook I do not consider numeracy problems. They are closed and generally have one solution. Don’t get me wrong I am not passing judgement on these questions. They do serve the purpose they are designed for they just do not go far enough to extend rich problem solving and develop students overall numeracy. They are the tools in the tool box.
To extend and develop numeracy concepts in our math classes we have been working on problems that I would define as mathematically rich problems. As stated by Simon Fraser University faculty member Peter Liljedahl, I believe the Qualities of a Good Numeracy Task exhibit
- Low Floor
- High Ceiling
- Huge Degrees of Freedom
- Fixed Constraints and
- Inherent Ambiguity
I encourage readers to check out Peter’s website for a more thorough definition of these qualities.
As we have completed numeracy tasks over the past couple of years we have found that the tasks that best embody these traits are the most interesting, challenging and capable of assisting in the development of students overall level numeracy. Students not only think inside the box but also have to extend their thinking outside of the box.
Any teachers who are looking for examples of good numeracy tasks and learn more about rich mathematics problems are encouraged to check out Peter Liljedahl’s site and examine the Enriching Mathematics site. If anyone knows of other good sites for rich problem solving please share in the comments section below.