Numeracy Zombies…. Bringing them back to life

lego_zombies_by_doodd-d69ewi7

There are some dead statements that keep coming back” (@pkcc1 on Twitter)

These are the numeracy zombies, statements which many will argue should be dead and buried but keep coming back to life and can be extremely difficult for many to kill dispel. We see the same numeracy zombies coming back to life time and time again! Many of these are myths developed from personal experiences of ourselves, our parents and friends both as students and teachers. And the scary thing is they keep coming back.

A colleague of mine created a Haiku Deck (seen here) about Digital Learning Zombies which had me thinking “What are the Numeracy Zombies we encounter in our schools and communities?” As a teacher, coach and community member I have heard many (and possibly been guilty of resurrecting some). My initial thoughts on some zombies and my argument to them are as follows:

Numeracy isn’t about having hands-on fun and playing games

Not all students are engaged by one single way of learning, nor will one way help develop understanding.

There is only one way or one formula to solve problems

There are multiple ways of solving problems and a variety of tools. How often have you been to a restaurant to split the bill and used long division to work out your share? Not often I would imagine. Some might use the calculator on their phone, others in their heads, some might do a quick estimate and others may divide the total bill by the amount of people eating. There are a variety of ways to work out a solution and people will use their own learning style to do so.

Keep giving more drill and skill questions until children get it!

Developing a stronger understanding of concepts is much more effective than memorising skills. For example memorising the formula for area of a triangle 1/2 b x h is not as important as knowing that a triangle’s area is half the area of the quadrilateral it fits into. I would argue that a concept will stick longer when you have developed a strong understanding of it rather than just regurgitating more of the same.

Problem solving is for those that have mastered the concepts

Problem solving is a proficiency all students needs to access to. How can all students be good at problem solving if they haven’t had an opportunity to do so? Would you prevent a baby from learning to walk because they haven’t mastered crawling?

Not everyone is born to do maths

Maths needs to be nurtured with a supportive learning environment that promotes risk taking and creativity, one that focuses on problem solving.


We are progressing into a world that requires more than the basic recall of numeracy concepts and regurgitating the formula to solve a problem. The way the 21st Century is moving we need to be better equipped with creativity, problem solving and critical thinking. If we are to move forward in promoting more numerate attitudes then we need to start putting these zombies to rest for good.

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This entry was posted in July 2014 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Numeracy Zombies…. Bringing them back to life

  1. Joshando says:

    Nice calls…
    I would argue about the fact that letting a baby waLk before crawling is not the best analogy as crawling is a critical developmental process for coordination and brain function….prior to walking…. Some children who walk before crawling develop issue later….but I am just being pedantic because the point you make about maths is totally true as problem solving solving gives us a reason to use the concepts,,,,chicken or the egg???

    • mattmillar82 says:

      yeh I wasn’t too happy with that analogy either. I was hastily wanting to get this one posted today. If I think of a better one I will definitely edit that. Can you think of any other Numeracy Zombies Josh? There’s definitely more out there

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