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Numeracy in the History Curriculum


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#1 Richard Drew

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Posted 04 February 2004 - 08:29 PM

Firstly a bit of context:
  • As part of my performance management I am currently developing a numeracy policy and set of resources for the History department at my school.
  • As part of our school's drive towards the Basic Skills Quality Mark, our school is making cross-curricular numeracy a key focus this year, including in twilight sessions and departmental meetings.
As such, numeracy is very much in the forefront of my mind at the moment and while I do not claim to have all of the answers I have certainly recently been in a position where I have been dwelling on many of the questions!

I intend this seminar to be an opportunity for teachers to share good practice in numeracy - activities, ideas and such like - and for teachers who fear anything numerical to ask for advice/ideas, or simply just lurk and pick up some good ideas along the way.

To kick off this seminar I want to consider why numeracy should have a prominent position in the history curriculum. In order to do this I will consider the moans/criticisms/whinges that I have come across in the (distant and recent) past:

1. "We are history teachers, it is the job of the maths department to teach maths."

Well, firstly we are all teachers of all the key skills of life, we teach literacy, thinking skills and other such skills, if we can make a contribution to this vital life skill then we should, and we are not supposed to be teaching them mathematical skills, but giving pupils the opportunity to practise and apply skills they have already gained.

Secondly, it is impossible to teach history without involving numeracy. even the most numero-phobic (I think I just made that word up!!) teacher has to involve numeracy in some way - the number of deaths in battles or from diseases, chronology, the changes in population in the black death, Industrial revolution and so on...

Thirdly, it greatly enriches the teaching of history. So many topics in history are more engaging the more numeracy is allowed to become involved. Try teaching WW1, the Industrial Revolution or the rise of the Nazis using statistics and figures only when it is completely necessary; much of what brings these events to life is the huge changes and events that can often only be expressed fully in numerical form.

2) "I'm no good at maths, the kids will catch me out and I'll feel an idiot"

Remember that it is not history for maths' sake, it is maths for history's sake, the learning outcome of the activity will be a historical one, and in that you will always be the one in control. Also, if you are doing a numeracy based activity, have all of the answers worked out in advance - why not get a member of your form to do it if you are worried!!!! If you need to use a skill you lack confidence in talk to a member of the maths department - they will be very very happy to help. (And lastly remember the mathematical ability of most KS3 pupils shouldn't frighten anyone :ouch: )

[N.B. A plea from my head of maths: if you really do hate maths and hated it at school, don't say that to the kids, instant negative atmosphere, and hell for maths teachers next maths lesson]

3) "Kids hate maths, they won't want to do it"

Kids love trying out skills they have acquired. If the numeracy activity is one that asks them to use a skill they have mastered in maths then they will in my experience be happy to do it "oh we know how to do this sir....". Also the opportunity to apply this to a 'real life' situation rather than the abstract and often dry scenarios in maths textbooks will engage them.

I believe that numeracy has a lot to offer history, as long as we remember the golden rule:

"It is maths to improve the understanding of history, not history to improve the understanding of maths."

But also remember that history has got a lot to offer numeracy. Maths teachers are always decrying the fact that they have to rely on abstract and dry questions and textbooks to teach mathematical skills and allow pupils to practice these skills. My head of maths recently put out a plea for other departments to provide them with figures/activities relevant to their subjects that could be used to liven up the maths classroom - imagine pupils being taught pie charts in maths by plotting the numbers of dead from each country in WW1 rather than a series of absract and meaningless numbers.
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#2 Elle

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Posted 05 February 2004 - 07:50 AM

"I'm no good at maths, the kids will catch me out and i'll feel an idiot"

I freely admit to students that I am bad at maths, and what a struggle it was for me to pass GCSE, but I do stress its importance. When ever something mathmatical crops up in a lesson I ask the kids to work out the answer FOR me, which gives them a boost because they are better at something that I am, and then its a race to see who can give me the answer first, and then I hand out rewards! I find also that the kids who are less good at maths aren't embaressed to ask me because they know that it's a struggle for me too.

You're scared of mice and spiders, but oh-so-much greater is your fear that one day the two species will cross-breed to form an all-powerful race of mice-spiders, who will immobilize human beings in giant webs in order to steal cheese.

 


#3 Richard Drew

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Posted 05 February 2004 - 08:28 PM

During my work on a departmental numeracy policy I found two particular activities/processes of great use, so I will share these now:

1) Auditing your department's numeracy:

Our maths department recently asked all departments in the school to do a very quick audit of where numeracy is involved in our curriculum. This was a very simple exercise. Using SOWs and thinking about activities we do, I went through the topics we teach and filled in a simple table by listing the names of the activities in each year group when we use the 3 aspects of the maths curriculum:
  • Use of number
  • Use of shapes, space and measures
  • Handling data
The results of this audit in my department were quite surprising, for a subject always considered to be literacy based, I was amazed to see that numeracy was almosts as prominent as literacy.

This is an exercise well worth doing, and allows you to easily highlight opportunities for numeracy on your SOWs.

2) Liaise with the maths department.

Maths teachers are not a different race of people. they may deal with a subject that has only right and wrong answers, they may teach a subject that ONLY gets harder and harder as you go on and they may teach a subject you have a phobia about but in my experience they are very passionate and committed people desperate to increase their links with other departments.

The main reason why the use of numeracy in other subjects can go wrong is because we do one of two things:

i) We ask pupils to undertake a numeracy activity which requires a skill the pupils have not yet had an opportunity to develop.
ii) We explain a calculation/process in a completely different way to the way they learnt it in maths lessons.

Liasion with the maths department is vital to avoid these two things that have a detremental effect on both our lessons AND maths lessons.

So, what to do about this?

Check with a maths teacher that the pupils will be able to do a numeracy based history task, even show the teacher the activity and get them to check if it is suitable, or to adapt it if it is not (Elle - they could even give you the results all written out, that would really impress your pupils)

Quickly check that you are explaining the process in the same way as the maths teachers do, this might be different to the way you did it at school!!

These two pieces of advice formed the basis of my numeracy work; I hope they are of help to others.

I would like the remainder of this seminar to be an opportunity to share good ideas and activities involving numeracy and history.

In that spirit I will kick off with a lesson I undertake that uses numeracy to teach history.

Year 9: War Plans

After my Y9's have covered the LT and ST causes of WW1 and the outbreak of war I want them to consider how the war would be likely to unfold

We begin the lesson with a brainstorm of ideas: "What resources would a country want more of than it's enemy to win a war?"

The pupils generate answers such as money, weapons, soldiers, population, manufacturing capacity such as steel production.

We then consider which would be most beneficial if there was a long or a short war - thinking skills hats generate the ideas that an advantage in soldiers and weapons wins a short war, a long drawn out affair is won by the side with more money, manufacturing capacity and population (with justifications of why).

We then use ICT to research the strengths of each of the major countries involved in WW1, collecting data on their strengths in each category (easily found on the Internet - I usually use Spartacus).

Pupils then total up the combined strength of each alliance

[The use of number and the handling of data]

Pupils are then able to deduce which side would be likely to win a short or a long war, and use this data to make deductions/reach conclusions.

The conclusion they reach is that the Central Powers would be best served by a very short war.

We are then back to thinking skills - using a map of Europe we identify the problem of the central powers being surrounded by the entente, and pupils speculate as to the best possible policy for the Germans to follow. Invariably they come up with the Schlieffen plan (!!!!).

We then leave the lesson with a cliffhanger: "but how long did the war last?"

"4 years sir"
"So what does that tell us about the German plan?"
"It didn't work sir"
"correct, next lesson we will learn why, pack away" !!!!!

The pupils have used their numerical skills to enhance their historical understanding - exactly what numeracy in history is all about.

*********************

Please offer your own numeracy in history activities/ideas......
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#4 Andrew Field

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Posted 06 February 2004 - 10:29 AM

Slightly off topic I'm afraid, but I hope this wil be a worthwhile response.

For me, the largest issue I have encountered is students being confidence and able to transfer their skills across other subjects. They know how to perfom complex calculations, work out percentages, examine ratios and so and from Maths, but when given similar problems many have difficulty automatically using their Maths skills to help them.

The ideas and techniques that Richard mentions, together with further development in this seminar will be of immense use - the key way to encourage students to transfer their skills is through experience and common usage.

The other major aspect that can really help in schools is to use consistent language - this is very closely linked to literacy. However what is clear is that a history teacher (through no fault of their own) calls a bar chart something else (as this is the familiar from their own learning or usage) and without consistent practice across the school barriers are increase between subjects, not broken down. If departments work together - often led by the Maths department - to enusure a consistent approach then it helps every department be more successful.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not suggesting all teachers should be Maths-led andriods. Rather that a consistent approach to the 'literacy' of numeracy is essential.

This previous thread on this forum also produced some great ideas. Read the thread for the full details, but in brief summary the following links were suggested:

KS3 History links with Mathematics

[Not exactly extensive] KS3 Numeracy across the Curriculum plus links to web-based sources of data.


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#5 Richard Drew

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Posted 06 February 2004 - 07:56 PM

For me, the largest issue I have encountered is students being confidence and able to transfer their skills across other subjects.  They know how to perfom complex calculations, work out percentages, examine ratios and so and from Maths, but when given similar problems many have difficulty automatically using their Maths skills to help them.

Thankyou for your well made points and excellent links Andrew.

The point I have quoted its particularly pertinent because it is a 2-way problem; pupils often find it difficult to master mathematical skills becasue in lessons they are introduced/practiced in an abstract and essentially "meaningless" manner. However, their incredibly patient maths teacher battles away and finally they see the light. BUT. Then as Andrew says they find it difficult to transfer these skills across other subjects.

The solution? As I touched on earlier - Maths teachers are crying out for real life sets of figures/scenarios to use in their maths lessons to make the learning process more relevant, real, exciting and purposeful. So any sets of figures that you have lying around, or in textbooks, especially ones that you do not specifically use in your lessons, send them to your maths department, they will be eternally grateful, and everyone will benefit. [Related to this, but different subject, I was teaching Y8 today about the 1665 plague, and many of them were able to offer wider knowledge and details because they have covered the case of Eyam in their Biology lessons a few weeks ago]

Today's Numeracy idea:

We have a great source in our department, it is the weekly wage of a mining family from the Pembrokeshire Coalfield in the 1840's, and also the family's weekly expenditure, fully broken down.

Within our study of working children in the Industrial Revolution we enquire as to why the children were working at all. As well as covering issues of law, lack of educational opportunities etc, we look at it from the perspective of why parents let their children work.

The numeracy exercise is for the pupils to calculate the total family wage for the week, multiply the weekly cost of each product (e.g. 20lb of flour at 2d per lb and so on), total up the weekly expenditure and calculate the total surplus/loss.

This activity means they study the actual source and detail of purcahses in great depth. This then leads on into questioning what this tells us;

~ Why did those items appear on the list, and in those quantities?
~ What is not on the list that surprises you?
~ What are some of those strange products you might not have heard of before?
~ What impact do the childrens' wages have on the family lifestyle?
~ What do you think they would have to go without if the children did not earn wages? (speculate)
~ Why did parents allow/encourage children to work?

We could simply tell them that parents often wanted children to work to bring in the extra cash to make their lifestyle a little more bearable, but they get an awful lot more out of this, and the numeracy is pretty straightforward, but what it does do it greatly improve the pupils' focus on the evidence itself and allows them to see the very specific effects of changes in the family situation.
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#6 Richard Drew

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Posted 08 February 2004 - 11:26 AM

Today's numeracy idea (surely i'm not the only one who uses numeracy based activities for learning history?):

Handling data;

We have a datbase resource containing details of local soldiers who died in WW1. The database began with name, address, date died and date death appeared in local newspaper. Y9 & History club searching on the CWGC site has added more details and now we have details of the soldiers': rank, regiment, age, where they are buried etc.

Pupils work in groups to collate these details and produce graphs illustrating the composition of the local dead in terms of what year they died in, what month they died in, what ranks they were, what regiments they were, what counrty they are buried in etc etc.

After producing these graphs, the pupils then study the results, and pose questions for further enquiry (e.g. why are most of the soldiers buried in France and Belgium, why are most of the soldiers members of the Monmouthshire regiment and the south wales borderers, why are most of the dead between 20 and 30 years old etc etc). This leads on into a research project, with presentation at the end with pupils investigating the questions that they themselves have posed.

As a final activity we then ask how useful the database is as a resource to an historian studying WW1and the local area - a real life scenario, pupils are judging the usefulness of a resource they have used, rather than a source that has been thrust upon them.



Again the numeracy enhances the history, not the other way around.
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#7 Richard Drew

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Posted 09 February 2004 - 08:17 PM

Today's numeracy activity:

[Tudor executions for Heresy]

This one is an ISM/Lesson starter (!!!)

A table of figures for tudor executions for heresy is displayed on an OHP, detailing the name of the monarch, the length of their reign in years and the total number of executions for heresy under each monarch.

Pupils then have to calculate:
* The total number of deaths
* The total number of years the tudors reigned for
* The average deaths per year
* The average number of deaths per year for each monarch

This activity clearly extracts the information that Mary not only executed by far the most people for heresy, but also that her average number per year was 'miles' higher than the other monarchs. (the 'maths' makes this fact much clearer than the pupils being told, or casually gazing at the figures, and the pupils feel a sense of ownership over these facts, rather than it just something else they have just been told)

After this the pupils are demanding to know why Mary executed so many people for heresy, and we are into the key question for the lesson:

"Why did Mary execute so many people for heresy?"

Edited by Richard Drew, 09 February 2004 - 08:18 PM.

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#8 Richard Drew

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Posted 12 February 2004 - 08:40 PM

What is numeracy?

I had a lively discussion with one of our maths teachers today about numeracy, and exactly what it is.

As i stated earlier in the seminar there are 3 aspects to the maths curriculum:

* Use of number
* Use of shapes, space and measures
* Handling data

However he put forward the case that numeracy is simply about being about to handle numbers and perform the functions of adding, subtracting etc. Handling data, creating and using graphs and measuring shapes and distances is maths but not numeracy: you can be numerate without being able to use graphs etc.

What do others think? Is 'numeracy across the curriculum' about all mathematical skills or just the handling of numbers?
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#9 Carole Faithorn

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Posted 13 February 2004 - 04:05 PM

What a pity that Richard seems to have been talking to himself on this important subject :( . Perhaps we have all just been reading and nicking his Dept's excellent ideas?

A number of points:
I agree entirely when he says

numeracy should enhance the history, not the other way around

. Unfortunately I can no longer find it, but I came across a resource on the www. recently which linked numeracy and history by encouraging KS3 pupils to carry out such tasks as 'Calculate (from the info given) how long it took for a medieval peasant' to walk to market.' Whilst I suppose one can then learn a little about medieval life it struck me as being a particularly pointless task - Maths for the sake of fulfilling the numeracy requirement rather than anything seriously to do with developing an understanding of History.

As for what numeracy is - I'm inclined to 'pass', but a completely personal view is that numeracy involves the ability to handle data - not just doing sums. Way before any government edict I (and many other teachers I feel sure) integrated mathematical skills into their lessons. I always felt that it's what you do with the information after you've 'done the sums' that's the vital thing.

On the subject of data, I have posted in 'Curriculum Resources' today about this

A Vision of Britain through Time site

This site contains information about your home area from the 2001 census -- and from every earlier British census back to 1801. It can present this information both as maps of the whole country and as graphs showing change over time in your area. It truly offers a Vision of Britain through time.

. It looks really interesting and the data, and presentation of the data, struck me as being relevant to this Seminar. Check it out!

Finally ........
I do hope your pupils learn rather more about Mary Tudor than that she burned more heretics than any other C16th English monarch, Richard!

#10 Dan Moorhouse

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Posted 13 February 2004 - 06:05 PM

Thanks for the excellent ideas so far Richard. I've not had time to offer any detailed reponses (and still haven't the time for anything too developed) but here are a few short versions of some of the things we do:

Year 7:

Quick and easy calculations of the size of Roman Armies based on typical sizes of legions, centuries etc.

Ratio of Romans against their opponents in battles we look at (Iceni rebellion mainly).

Trading game called 'Marius' Mules'. Students need to record earnings and interpret the statistics they produce.

'Barter' roleplay. Similar to Marius' Mules. Roleplay of life in a medieval village. Students have tally charts to complete and consolidation work looks at the value of money etc. Numeracy skills are developed as a result of frequent basic calculations and can be expanded upon in plenary session if fel appropriate.

Black Death: looking at stats, using and interpreting them.

Year 8:

Baghdad Trading game. Another simulation that involves regular calculations and recording of data.

Out of time for the moment. I'll try and expand on these later and add the rest of Year 8 / 9 in.

#11 Richard Drew

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Posted 13 February 2004 - 08:03 PM

On the subject of data, I have posted in 'Curriculum Resources' today about this

A Vision of Britain through Time site

This site contains information about your home area from the 2001 census -- and from every earlier British census back to 1801. It can present this information both as maps of the whole country and as graphs showing change over time in your area. It truly offers a Vision of Britain through time.

. It looks really interesting and the data, and presentation of the data, struck me as being relevant to this Seminar. Check it out!

Thankyou very much for this Carole. This is a brilliant site containing a wealth of numerical statistics that can be used to improve pupils' understanding of history.

A variety of statistics - figures, pie charts, bar graphs, line graphs that can be used by the pupils to pose questions, answer questions and promote enquiry.

Most importantly, and Carole reinforced this should be about using numeracy to promote historical understanding and enquiry, not maths in a historical context: if your maths department want this, give them some historical statistics/scenarios to use in their lessons.
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#12 Richard Jones-Nerzic

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Posted 30 March 2004 - 09:53 AM

Try teaching WW1, the Industrial Revolution or the rise of the Nazis using statistics and figures only when it is completely necessary; much of what brings these events to life is the huge changes and events that can often only be expressed fully in numerical form.

For me, Maths happens in history lessons when the students use Excel. I did this lesson this morning.
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Using statistical data on unemploment and electoral support in Germany, students create a dual axis graph to demonstate the correlation between the two.

http://www.intst.net...wall_street.htm

Typically I had no idea how to do this, so I set a challenge to my students last year to create the graph. They succeeded and one of them produced a 'how to' page which just worked very well on this year's students:

http://www.intst.net...graph/index.htm

When encouraged to transfer skills, they can do it. But like most things, students are good at things they are well taught. Generally, I don't think we are good at teaching students how to transfer skills.

Every year I have great intentions for a more systematic approach to cross-curricular skills in history. Every year it ends up at the bottom of my list of things to do. :(
All that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.
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#13 Jacko

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Posted 07 April 2004 - 09:20 PM

I have a database listing all the men and boys who died in the Felling Colliery Disaster. It is divided into fields such as name, age, job, date of burial, marital status, etc.

After spending some time looking at how we can sort and interpret the data the pupils are given a very open ended task which involves writing a report on the disaster. This involves research into mining techniques, the reasons for the particular disaster, the dangers of particular jobs in the mines and a final evaluation of how the village would have been affected by the disaster.

The kids quickly catch on to the idea that graphs can be used to support their findings. A very simple one can be used to show the number of married and unmarried men who died, thus demonstrating that the disaster did not just destroy the lives of those down the mine.

Not sure if this is numeracy in the sense that Richard's Maths colleague suggests but I would suggest it is an excellent exercise in interpreting data.

#14 Richard Drew

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Posted 18 April 2004 - 03:55 PM

I have now finished writing an 'offical' numeray policy for the department handbook. i thought i'd post it here in case anyone wanted to borrow/alter it and apply it to their own department (assuming that anyone out there does not already have an offical numeracy in history strategy written up!!!):


HISTORY AND NUMERACY

Numeracy in history is based upon two core principles:

~ Pupils should be offered opportunities within their study of history to exercise their numeracy skills within a ‘real life’ context, thus building on their mathematical confidence.

~ Well-planned, motivating numeracy based questions and activities should provide pupils experiences through which they can develop their historical understanding.

In particular, pupils should use:
· Numbers and the number system
· Data handling
· Measures and shapes

1. Number and the number system

Pupils should be given opportunities within their study of history to use numbers and use them to develop their understanding of events and changes. The use of number should be for the purpose of understanding an historical event or change in greater depth and detail, rather than the use of numbers for their own sake.

Strategies for the use of numbers include:

· Constructing timelines
· Chronology exercises and the development of chronological language and awareness
· Consequence based exercises involving for example changes in population and migration
· Exercises to study details of peoples lives or events in which numbers are of use – wages, spending etc


2. Handling data


In history handling data is about the use and analysis of numerical/graphical sources of evidence. The handling of data should be for the purpose of understanding an historical event or change in greater depth and detail, rather than the handling of data for its own sake.

Some topics lend themselves to shorter exercises, others can form the basis of an extended enquiry. The role of the teacher in promoting pupils’ confidence, ensuring inclusivity, challenging misunderstandings and encouraging enquiry is crucial here. The questions asked are vitally important and subtle in the transformation of data into answers to complex historical situations and events.


Strategies to encourage effective data handling in history include:

· Statistics and graphs as ISM, asking pupils to identify key trends, patterns and significant information. For example figures of deaths from the plague or witchcraft.
· Encouraging the graphical representation of changes over time, especially useful for visual learners. For example changing views of King John over time, the varying success of the Weimar Republic, changing attitudes towards the police over time.
· The use of statistics and graphs to pose questions. Pupil interest and engagement can be encouraged by presenting them with some ‘shocking’ or ‘unusual’ figures or graphs as a means of engaging their interest and providing a stimulus to further enquiry. For example the database of local deaths in WW1.


3. Measures and shapes

Pupils should use their knowledge of measures and shapes to help them understand historical events and environments. The use of measure and shape should be for the purpose of understanding an historical event or change in greater depth and detail, rather than the use of measures and shapes for their own sake.

Strategies to encourage effective use of measure and shape in history include:

· The analysis of physical environments to allow pupils to make judgements about the reasons for, and impact of their construction.
The measurement of the physical size of environments or distances to allow pupils to comprehend the impact of these on lives, events and changes


I hope this is of help to some people :teacher:
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