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MEP learning pack

Masters in Educational Practice: Numeracy learning pack


Contexts for learning and teaching


Numeracy within communities of practice

Just like adults, children and younger learners are members of many interconnected and dynamic ‘communities of practices’ (Wenger, 2008) – i.e. family groups, friendship and peer groups, sports teams, club/interest groups, subject and tutor groups, social networking groups, etc. The ways of being in these different ‘communities’ vary. They can have their own specialist language or vocabulary; their own ways of communicating; specialist knowledge, tools, particular behaviours, and things that are valued.

Numeracy as social practice(s)

Numeracy can be viewed as social practice(s) that cut across these ‘communities of practice’ as learners have to apply their mathematical understanding and numerical reasoning purposefully in diverse daily activities both in and out of school (Baker et al, 2002). Children and young people have to negotiate how to participate (or not) in the varied social practices associated with the communities of practice they belong to (Street et al, 2005). However, there may be quite different values, rules and patterns associated with these. For example:

  • intergenerational differences in tackling numeracy problems
  • home and school discourses around mathematics and numeracy.

Activity 4.04

  1. Can you identify any similarities and differences between how you use/have used numeracy in different settings or situations, with different people, at different times in your life?
  2. Are these related to different ‘communities of practice’?
  3. Reflect on what implications the idea of ‘communities of practice’ might have for supporting numeracy learning within your professional practice.

Communities of practice within the school environment

It’s important to note that the idea of ‘everyday’ numeracy practices is not confined to ‘out-of-school’ activities, but also describes numeracy learning within school or further education settings. Learner experiences and practices of numeracy within mathematics lessons, for example, are as much a part of their real-life daily activities as anything else.

Within a school environment there are many different ‘communities of practice’. At Foundation Phase the distinctions between different Areas of Learning or learner contexts may be fewer and better understood, but as learners progress through phases and key stages, there is greater distinction and even divergence between these increasingly subject specialist ‘communities of practice’. The risk of disconnect with wider learner contexts also seems greater as learners make the transition from primary to secondary school and progress from Key Stages 3 to 4.

Diverse and dynamic numeracy practices

Ways of doing and communicating calculations in a mathematics lesson, for example, may be quite different from how measurements are taken and manipulated in a science lesson, or how and why temperatures are recorded and interpreted within a geography lesson. So, learning to be a successful participant in a geography or science or mathematics classroom community (which may be synonymous with ‘being good at maths’) also involves developing particular numeracy practices in context. Similarly, the classroom conventions and ‘ways of being’ in Year 7 may be quite different from Year 10 even within the same subject area or school.

This sort of tacit ‘know-how’ can become part of taken for granted ways of doing things rather than clearly recognised conventions, rules, tools or approaches particular to our own subject areas which need to be made explicit to learners, colleagues and parents/carers. Making these sorts of dynamic numeracy practices explicit (purposes, practices, tools, discourse) through exemplar materials, professional discussions, parents meetings and continuing professional development (CPD) activities is crucial for planning the successful implementation of ‘numeracy-in-action’ across the curriculum across key stages and in post-16.

Numeracy as mathematics and more

The relationship between mathematics and numeracy  is a particularly close but not exclusive one. Although developing mathematical ‘know-how’ is central to the National Literacy and Numeracy Framework (LNF), it goes beyond simply providing additional contexts within which to consolidate and evidence ‘acquisition’ of mathematical understanding and application of particular numerical skills and reasoning. Other subjects and areas of school life have important contributions to make to and gain from the development of successful and flexible numeracy practices.

Activity 4.05

Look at recent Welsh Government policy documentation including those related to literacy and communication, ICT and digital technology, metacognitive and interpersonal development.

How might these contribute to developing learners as confident numeracy practitioners?

How might developing learners' numeracy skills support other Welsh Government policies? (e.g. Healthy Schools and Change4life)


Street, B., Tomlin, A. and Baker, D. (2005) Navigating Numeracies: Home/School Numeracy Practices. Dordrecht : Kleuwer, 2005

Baker, D., Street, B. and Tomlin, A. (2003) Mathematics as social: understanding relationships between home and school numeracy practices. In For the Learning of Mathematics, 23(3), pp.11–15. 

Wenger, E. (2008) Communities of Practice. Learning as a social system. Systems Thinker. (online) (accessed 30 September 2013)

Useful links

Tomlin, A., Baker, D. and Street, B. (2002) Home and school numeracy: Where are the borders and overlaps? In Proceedings of the Mathematics, Education and Society Conference (MES3), 2nd–7th April 2002. Centre for Research in Learning Mathematics, Danish University of Education, pp.480–488. (online) (accessed 30 September 2013)

Civil, M. (1999). Parents as resources for mathematical instruction. In van Groenestijn. M and Coben.D. (Eds.), Mathematics as part of lifelong learning (Proceedings of the fifth international conference of 'Adults Learning Maths – A research forum', Utrecht, Netherlands, July 1998) (pp.216–222). London, UK: Goldsmiths College. (online) (accessed 30 September 2013)

Civil, M. and Andrade, R. (2002). Transitions between home and school mathematics: rays of hope amidst the passing clouds. In de Abreu, G. Bishop, A. J. and Presmeg. N. C (Eds.), Transitions between contexts of mathematical practices (pp.149–169). Dordrecht: Kluwer

Kahn, L. and Civil, M. (2001). Unearthing the mathematics of a classroom garden. In McIntyre, E. Rosebery, A and González. N. (Eds.) Classroom Diversity: Connecting School to Students' Lives (pp.37–50). Portsmouth, NH, Heinemann

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