- 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.
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 )
[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.