Incorporating Numeracy into Community-Based Programs

Incorporating Numeracy into Community-Based Programs

We know a lot about literacy and include literacy activities in all our resources — but we don’t do as much in numeracy as we should. This week’s results from the territorial student testing program show that students in both Grades 6 and 9 struggle with math. That suggests that as an organization we should pay more attention to numeracy.

Think how much numeracy there is in our everyday lives: counting money; measuring — fabric, ingredients in a recipe, gas needed for a skidoo trip, area of a room; reading and understanding temperatures; working out costs of heating; and on and on. Numeracy is one of the Government of Canada’s Essential Skills; it’s as much a foundational skill as literacy.

Last week, staff from the NWT Literacy Council learned how to incorporate numeracy effectively into community-based programs from Pat Salt, an essential skills consultant. Pat’s first message was simple: any activity has to be meaningful for the people involved, so that they can apply what they learn to their everyday lives — at home, in their community, or at work. Her second message was to ask ourselves, “What skills are we building through this activity?”

So, for example, a person is diabetic and they are choosing what muffin they should eat. They know the nutritional information for a muffin that weighs 99 grams. However, they don’t know what a 99-gram muffin looks like. Is it a smaller muffin? Or is it a giant muffin you might buy in the coffee shop? You need to know the answer for the information to be meaningful and useful. So which object in the picture do you think is closest in weight to the 99g muffin? The answer is the tomato, which weighs about 100g.

Here’s another example. The recommended daily added sugar limit is 9 tsp for men, 6 tsp for women, and 3-6 tsp for children. One can of cola has 8 tsp of added sugar. Whoa! There goes your daily limit! Did you know that? So, it’s not enough to have people work on numeracy problems out of context. We have to show them how the information is relevant to their everyday lives. 

In the future, we will incorporate more numeracy activities into our materials. In the meantime, check out our Everyday Math Skills Series, as an example of learning skills in context. You’ll find the books on our website at

— Helen Balanoff, Project Manager

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