Numeracy and the Curriculum

‘All teachers are teachers of numeracy.’
Discuss this statement with reference to your understanding of numeracy.

Regardless of their future careers, all young people need high levels of numeracy in order to participate effectively in Australian society. So mathematics learned at school shouldn’t be isolated knowledge. “Numeracy is the capacity to bridge the gap between mathematics learned at school and the many contexts where it needs to be used in daily life.”

For students to become numerate, they must be given opportunities to practice and apply the mathematics they have learned, not only in the mathematics classroom but also in other areas of the curriculum. It has an application in all areas of our lives and thus in all method areas of the curriculum.

In many non-English speaking countries, numeracy is called ‘mathematical literacy’ which reminds us that, like literacy in a language, we are talking about a “broad set of acquired behaviours and dispositions important for effective participation in society”.

The OECD (2003) in its definition of mathematical literacy for the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) defines ‘mathematical literacy’ as:

  • an individual’s capacity to identify and understand the role that mathematics plays in the world, and
  • to make well-founded judgements and to use and engage with mathematics in ways that meet the needs of that individual’s life as a constructive, concerned and reflective citizen.

As Lynn Steen writes:

Like writing, numeracy must permeate the curriculum. When it does, also like writing, it will enhance students’ understanding of all subjects and their capacity to lead informed lives.


Take your own notes about each of six numeracy elements.

Estimating and calculating with whole numbers

Students learn to solve and model everyday problems using mental, written and digital strategies, and particularly when they use money, a maths skill we take for granted.

Recognising and using patterns and relationships

This element involves students identifying trends and describing and using a wide range of rules and relationships to continue and predict patterns.

Students learn about patterns and how to predict them and the relationships when solving problems in real-life contexts.

Using fractions, decimals, percentages, ratios and rates

This involves students developing an understanding of the meaning of fractions and decimals, and how they work and are seen applied in the real world as percentages, ratios and rates.

Using spatial reasoning

Students identify shapes and objects and then use symmetry and angles to solve problems in context. They all interpret maps and diagrams and can find routes and locations.

Interpreting statistical information

Students can collect, record, compare and evaluating data  of different types. From this they can then explain the outcomes of chance events.

Using measurement

In developing and acting with numeracy, students estimate and measure with metric units and can work with clocks, calendars and timetable.


With reference to different learning areas, identify some ways in which you can develop numeracy in The Arts, Health and Physical Education and Humanities and Social Sciences for Grade 5 & 6.

History: Students count, estimate, measure, sequence and organise data and information about the past, present and future. They calculate, interpret and manipulate statistics, learning to use statistical analysis to test relationships between variables and to predict probable and possible futures. Students learn to organise, interpret, analyse and present information in numerical and graphical form about historical and civic events and developments to make meaning of the past and present. They learn to use scaled timelines, including those involving negative and positive numbers, and calendars and dates to represent information on topics of historical significance and to illustrate the passing of time

Geography: They interpret tables and graphs and recognise and infer about patterns and distributions shown on maps, charts and in other formats. They synthesise numerical data and texts to communicate information and support conclusions about social, economic and environmental issues. In constructing and interpreting maps, students work with numerical concepts associated with grids, scale, distance, area and projections. They investigate the relationship between fundamental geographical concepts, for example, location and distance, spatial distributions, and the organisation and management of space within places. They learn to conduct community surveys and forecast economic outcomes, and how to represent and analyse findings as fractions, decimals and ratios in text, graphs and charts.


The Arts

Students select and use relevant numeracy knowledge and skills to plan, design, make, interpret, analyse and evaluate artworks. They use numbers to calculate and estimate; spatial reasoning to solve problems involving space, patterns, symmetry, 2D shapes and 3D objects; scale and proportion to show and describe positions, pathways and movements; and measurement to explore length, area, volume, capacity, time, mass and angles. Students work with a range of numerical concepts to organise, analyse and create representations of data relevant to their own or others’ artworks, such as diagrams, charts, tables, graphs and motion capture.

Health and Physical Education

Students use calculation, estimation and measurement to collect and make sense of information related to nutrition, fitness, navigation in the outdoors or various skill performances. They use spatial reasoning in movement activities and in developing concepts and strategies for individual and team sports. Students interpret and analyse health and physical activity information using statistical reasoning, identifying patterns and relationships in data to consider trends, draw conclusions, make predictions and inform health behaviour and practices.


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