Can You Read Math?literacy-and-math-10-strategies.jpg
You may be able to do math, but can you read math? Being able to read and understand mathematics is known as math literacy, numeracy, or quantitative literacy. Mathematics is typically viewed as arithmetic or “basic skills” from elementary education to algebra, geometry, trigonometry, statistics, and calculus through secondary education. Merriam-Webster Map.gifDictionary defines mathematics as “the science of numbers and their operations, interrelations, combinations, generalizations, and abstractions and of space configurations and their structure, measurement, transformations, and generalizations” (2014). According to Oxford Learning, math literacy is having the ability to understand the language of math to be able to problem-solve, reason, and analyze information (2010). In the classroom, “Math literacy helps students to decipher what a question is actually asking by understanding the terminology” (Oxford Learning, 2010, What is Math Literacy?, para. 5). The teacher could ask “If the length of the side of a square is doubled, what is the ratio of the areas of the original square to the area of the new square?” A math literate student would analysis this problem by first acknowledging that if one side of a square is doubled, then all the sides would be doubled because a square has four equal sides. The student would then address the meaning of area of a square. The area of a square is equaled to the length of the side squared. Squaring a number is calculated by multiplying the number by the number, i.e. 52 = 5 x 5 = 25. Consider the original square with a length of 1, so one side of the ratio is one. Why did the numerate student choose 1 math problem df.JPGas the side length? Because, in this case the student is able to represent this ratio as a unit ratio, meaning that the original figure can have an area of 1 when the side length is 1 due to when the student squared 1 (1 x 1 = 1) the area is 1. The other side of the ratio can be determined by doubling the length of 1, the student would get a length of 2 for each side of the new square. To find the area of the new square the student would square 2 (22) which is 4. The ratio of original square to the new square is 1 to 4, which can also be written as 1:4 or 1/4.

Most students would believe that math and literacy are two different contents in school that have no connection, but in reality literacy and math function together. Teaching and learning mathematics and numeracy should be used together in a math classroom."Both are necessary for life and work, and each strengthens the other" (“Numeracy and mathematics: United States”, 2010, p. 5). Phillips, Bardsley, Bach, and Gibb-Brown express the importance for the reader to realize that mathematics has a language of its own (2009, p. 468). Just like letters represent sounds that form words then into sentences, symbols represent mathematical concepts and procedures. “Fuentes (1998) argues that unlike other text where authors elaborate their points, each word and symbol in mathematics text must be read and understood with precision” (Phillips, Bardsley, Bach, & Gibb-Brown, p. 468).

For example, the symbol for percent is %. This symbol means that the number in front of the symbol is out of the whole, which is hundred. A percent can be represented as a fraction by taking the number in front of the percent symbol as the numerator and the denominator as hundred, and then reduce the fraction to lowest terms. Remember that the denominator of a fraction represents the whole and the whole of a percent is hundred. This is why the denominator is hundred. The decimal form of a percent is found not only by moving the decimal to the left two places to represent the division of a hundred, but by physically dividing denominator (100) into the numerator. By looking at 25%, a math literate student could not only represent this number as a fraction and a decimal, 25% = 25/100 = 1/4 = 0.25, but could articulate the meaning of converting the percent to a fraction and a decimal.

Literacy in the math classroom can be enhanced with vocabulary, speaking, writing, and reading using mathematical terminology. “Research shows that vocabulary knowledge is the single most important factor contributing to reading comprehension. Therefore, students need opportunities to interact with essential mathematics vocabulary” (Kosiak, Schumann, Harry, & Jancik, 2011, p. 14). Common Core’s Mathematical Practices ensure for todays and future students to be mathematically literate:
  1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

  2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

  3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

  4. Model with mathematics.

  5. Use appropriate tools strategically.

  6. Attend to precision.

  7. Look for and make use of structure.

  8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Common Core has noticed that more than procedures, calculations, operations, and properties need to be implemented into math classrooms around the nation. Mathematical problems cannot be understood, analyzed, or solved without being mathematically literate.
Trend or Issue?
Math literacy not being implemented in all grade levels is a big issue in our nation, state, district, school, and classroom. Math literacy is a concept that needs to be implemented not just for higher scores on state and national testing, but to equip students to solve every day problem’s with a math concept. Those problems could consist of how you are going to pay off your new car, how much time you have to clean the house when you have a doctor’s appointment at 3:00 pm, and using the recipe of your grandmother’s famous pecan sandies to feed 200 people at the office Christmas party. Steen acknowledges that “This finding-indefinite though it maybe-highlights an important educational issue concerning the new literacies required by our global technological society. To cope with the data needs of modern life, students need more than ever to become quantitatively literate, yet to meet the equally important demands of further education they also need to master the established discipline of mathematics” (2001, p. 1, para. 6). Not only do teachers need to teach the discipline of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus; but they need to support the discipline with strategies to comprehend real world applications to be able to apply the mathematical calculations correctly. This is where mathematics and numeracy need to go hand-and-hand to prepare our students for life and higher education. “So the call for numeracy in schools is not a call for more mathematics, nor even for more applied mathematics. It is a call for a different and more meaningful pedagogy across the entire curriculum” (Steen, 2001, p. 4, para. 5).

Is math literacy being implemented in math classrooms? The even bigger question is is math literacy being expected to be taught? The concepts of numeracy are being expected to be taught according to the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards (CCGPS, p. 2). In the K-12 Mathematics Introduction, the Georgia Department of Education states that there is a shift in teaching mathematics (CCGPS, p. 2). “There is a shift towards applying mathematical concepts and skills in the context of authentic problems and for the student to understand concepts rather than merely follow a sequence of procedures” (CCGPS, p. 2). Educators are being expected to teach in this fashion, but why are the students not being tested in the same fashion. The Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) is Georgia’s state achievement test that ensures students are learning, gathers data to enhance better instructional decisions, and uses data for accountability measures and reports (Grade 7 CRCT, p. 6). All the CRCT tests use are multiple-choice questions to validate the teaching and learning in Georgia schools (Grade 7 CRCT, p. 6). Multiple-choice questions cannot validate the shift in bringing numeracy in the math classrooms. Numeracy requires the ability to articulate mathematically and multiple-choice questions cannot prove that articulation. Open-ended questions can convey whether a student can understand, apply, and calculate math precisely. Why is open-ended questioning not a part of the CRCTs when it is an expectation for our students to be math literate?

Math literacy and mathematics are not only important to excel in math as a student and apply math concepts and calculations to everyday STEM_wide_clear.pnglife, but they are important to supply the demand in Science, Technology, Engineer, and Mathematics (STEM) careers. Georgia Department of Labor states that STEM careers are growing as fast as 10 to 17 percent faster than all other jobs together (STEM, para. 2). The concerns for qualified STEM workers are increasing in Georgia as well as the United States. “A recent study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, reports that STEM jobs in Georgia will represent 4 percent of all jobs in the state (close to 200,000) by the year 2018” (STEM, para. 3). While the demand of STEM jobs are on the rise, “the good news is that student interest in STEM jobs seems to be on the rise. Many students are starting to realize that STEM-related jobs can be a gateway to many career choices, and offer the opportunity for high paying careers” (STEM, para. 4). “According to information released by Georgetown University, STEM-related jobs pay on average between $8 and $18 per hour more than all other jobs across the nation” (STEM, para. 5). A report from Kelly Services projects the highest growth in these eight categories:
  1. Biomedical Engineer (62 percent growth)

  2. Medical Scientist

  3. Software Developer (Systems)

  4. Biochemist and Biophysicist

  5. Database Administrator

  6. Network and Computer Science Administration

  7. Software Developer (Applications)

  8. Actuary

All of the top eight of highest growing careers require some portion of math. Some more than others require numeracy efficient scholars to be qualified and successful in his or her career choice. Math literacy is in demand in the classroom, district, city, state, and nation to equip the students to supply the demand for STEM careers in our city, state, and nation.

Math classroom teachers can address the issue of math literacy in the classroom to provide our world, nation, state, and city with math literate citizens. The use of vocabulary through reading, writing, or speaking should be integrated into math lessons on a daily basis to produce numerate students. Kosiak, Schumann, Harry, and Jancik suggest the uses of common literacy tools and strategies in math classroom: (2011, p. 5)
  • Connecting

  • Predicting

  • Questioning

  • Thinking

  • Inferring

  • Visualizing

  • Summarizing

  • Determining Importance

Implementing these different literacy tools and strategies can promote math literate students through engaging activities. Society is expecting citizens to understand and apply every day math problems and the workforce is demanding qualified STEM employees. Are you going to prepare your students to fill the expectations and demands for numerate citizens?

To see a proposal describing one way to implement math literacy within a school district, please read the document below:

(Adams & Pegg, 2012, p. 158)

Annotated Bibliography

Adams, A., & Pegg, J. (2012). Teachers’ enactment of content literacy strategies in secondary science and mathematics classes. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52(2), 151–161. doi::10.1002/JAAL.00116
This study highlights the importance of attending to the various ways that teachers enact content literacy strategies and the influences of goals, previous practices, and local contexts on their enactment in math and science.

Common core Georgia performance standards (CCGPS) [Adobe Digital Editions version]. (2011). Georgia: Georgia Department of Education. Retrieved from
This document introduce the mathematics in Georgia for K-12, list and explain math standards for 6th-8th grade, and list and explain standards for mathematical practices.

Grade 7 CRCT study guide [Adobe Digital Editions version]. (2013). Georgia: Georgia Department of Education. Retrieved from
This document is a study guide for the 7th grade. It also explains what the CRCT is, what does the CRCTmeasure, and how the CRCT questions are scored.

Kosiak, J., Schumann, S., Harry, A., & Jancik, B. (2011, February 4). Growing the connection between mathematics and best-practice reading and writing strategies. In University of Wisconsin - La Crosse: mathematics department. Retrieved May 31, 2014, from Wisconsin State Reading Association website:
This professional development PowerPoint was created to educate math teachers of how to incorporate best-practice literacy strategies in math classrooms, and why it is important to have literacy concepts taught in a math classroom.

Mathematics. (2014). In Merriam-Webster dictionary. Retrieved May 29, 2014, from Merriam-Webster, Incorporated website:
This source is an online dictionary which was used to define mathematics.

Numeracy and mathematics: United States. (2010). In Numeracy literature review for evidence based practices framework (p. 5) [Adobe Digital Editions version]. Northern Territory, Australia: Northern Territory Department of Education and Training. Retrieved from
This research booklet the Smarter Schools National Partnership on Literacy and Numeracy is a joint initiative of the Australian Government and the Department of Education and Training, Northern Territory Government was created use current studies and research from around the world to provide an Evidence Based Numeracy Practices Framework for numeracy programs in the Northern Territory of Australia.

Phillips, D., Bardsley, M., Bach, T., & Gibb-Brown, K. (2009). "But I teach math" the journey of middle school mathematics teachers and literacy coaches learning to integrate literacy strategies into the math instruction. Education, 129(3), 467-472. Retrieved from Galileo database.
This scholarly journal article encourages math teachers and literacy coaches to collaborate to explore how mathematics and literacy skills can be integrated into the math classroom.

Steen, L. (2001). Mathematics and numeracy: two literacies, one language. The Mathematics Educator, 6(1), 10-16. Retrieved from
This scholarly article is about bringing mathematics and numeracy together in the math classroom.

STEM occupations. (2013, June 7). In Georgia Department of Labor. Retrieved June 1, 2014, from
This is an article on preparing students for STEM occupations and the demand for STEM employees now and the future.

What does math literacy mean? (2010, May 5). In Oxford Learning. Retrieved May 29, 2014, from Oxford Learning Centers,Inc. website:
This article defines math literacy, list challenges, and ways to improve math literacy in children.