Developing Critical Numeracy Across the Curriculum

Critical Numeracy

Critical Numeracy is the ability to make discerning decisions about everyday issues which involve mathematical concepts. In this website we use a Four Resource Critical Numeracy Model as a key lens in the design of teaching and learning activities. By making thinking visible for students they can be empowered to bring a  critical numeracy lens to their own everyday reading, judgements and actions.

Critical numeracy works in combination with other literacies and lenses (emotional, spiritual, ethical, aesthetic, scientific, historical, social, philosophic, environmental, and critical literacy) to help build capacities for wise citizenship.


Building critical numeracy capacity is not just about encouraging scepticism in the lone reader. We have found that key elements in developing critical numeracy are:


 Why Critical Numeracy across the curriculum?

Professor Jane Watson explains why...            PDF          Video

"It is recommended that all systems and schools recognise that, while mathematics can be taught in the context of maths lessons, the development of numeracy requires experience in the use of mathematics beyond the mathematics classroom, and hence requires an across the curriculum commitment."

The National Numeracy Review Report 2008

  • giving students an opportunity to make sense of the mathematical concepts and make sense of the context before moving to more critical thinking about both.
  • giving an opportunity for exploration with others - pairs, groups or whole class discussions where different views are juxtaposed and reconciled.
  • giving an opportunity for students to create something using their new knowledge - particularly products which have an audience greater themselves, enabling feedback from a wider community.

Critical Numeracy = understanding + criticality + community + creativity


The Four Resource Model for Critical Numeracy

Critical Numeracy uses a similar model to the Four Resource Model of Critical Literacy (Luke and Freebody) to build students' capacities to ask questions about the meaning, validity and usefulness of texts containing mathematical concepts or information. By using a similar model to critical literacy students can recruit and build on the visible thinking strategies that they are developing whether in a literacy or numeracy context.

In the process of  applying a critical numeracy lens, students go deeper into the mathematical ideas and deeper into the contexts. They challenge the usefulness of the mathematical ideas in relationship to the context. So rather than just learning the rules of maths they are encouraged to explore and question their application.

The following gives examples of the type of questions you may ask to help students become familiar with the mathematical ideas and the contexts (De-coding and Meaning-Making) before applying a more critical lens (Using and Analysing). We also give examples of how to help the students creatively use their understandings. We expand on this model in Thinking Strategies where we link to possible Thinking routines that can assist in developing student capacity in each of the quadrants.


  • What are the different ways numbers are used and represented?
  • What is the terminology being used and what does it mean?
  • What are the key mathematical concepts?
  • What are the key mathematical processes and procedures?

Be creative - collect all the terminology and categorise it into the key mathematical concepts or create a concept map


  • What is the text about?
  • How does it relate to what I already know?
  • How can I use what I already know to help me explore further?
  •  How do the mathematical concepts make sense in this context?
  • How do the mathematical concepts help me understand this context?
  • What is confusing or misleading?
  • Are there other possible meanings?
Be creative - How might you represent the data differently to make them clearer or more meaningful?


  • In what ways are the numbers or mathematical concepts in this context significant or useful?
  • What is the purpose of the text and how does it connect into the bigger picture?
  • How might this text be used to promote different viewpoints?
  • What are possible applications and likely impacts?
  • How would I use this text and what decisions would I make based on it?
  • In what ways am I now thinking about the issues and the mathematical concepts differently?



Be creative - Make predictions, develop a model, create your own study, write a news story, imagine scenarios, draw a Futures Wheel, or create a cartoon. Consider what data you might select or angle you might take if you were trying to persuade your audience of a particular view.


  • Is it true? - Are the mathematical concepts used appropriately in this text? What is the evidence? Is it based on reasonable assumptions? Is it logical and consistent? Is it researched appropriately? Does it have a reputable source? What do I need to know to be convinced that it is plausible?
  • Is it fair? - Does it include different views, values, perspectives or types of research? What is missing? Who might be silenced? Where do I look for alternatives?
  • How does it position me? - What do I think the authors' intentions, values or biases are? What do they want me to believe? How do they use the mathematical concepts or terminology to position me?
  • Do I believe it?

Be creative - Set up debates where people in your class take on different roles or  perspectives. Write a letter to the editor of the news critiquing the article.

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