We have been working towards a conceptualization of numeracy before focusing on health numeracy (which simply adds a context limiting the scope of numeracy).  The key challenge is staying true to the teaching/learning context within which we are working, while acknowledging the complexity and flexibility of the term itself.

A useful conceptualization?

Coben, D. (2006). What Is Specific about Research in Adult Numeracy and Mathematics Education?. Adults Learning Mathematics2(1), 18-32.


My (Coben’s) delineation of two domains of numeracy (Coben 2002, outlined in Figure 3, below) is adapted from a schema developed for adult literacy by Kell (2001) in South Africa.

Adult numeracy in Domain One is characterized by formalisation and standardization of the curriculum, and technologisation, unitisation and commodification of learning and learning materials. It is competency-based and outcomes-focussed, with certification being the desired outcome, and explicit equivalence with educational levels in schools. It supports normative claims about the beneficial effects of numeracy for the individual and for society. Adult numeracy education in Skills for Life is located in Domain One because, as Kell puts it, speaking of literacy in Domain One, it is “created through the standardising processes of fixing levels, writing unit standards and setting performance criteria” (Kell, 2001, p.100).

By contrast, numeracy in Domain Two is “about informal and non-standard mathematics practices and processes in adults’ lives, which may bear little relation to formal, taught mathematics”. Domain One numeracy may have low use value but high exchange value “it is ‘hard currency’, yielding certificates tradeable on the labour market. Domain Two is the opposite: it has high use value but no exchange value beyond the community of practice in which it occurs…; it is ‘soft currency’… [and] situated in Jean Lave’s sense”; it is often ‘invisible’ or unregarded by those directly concerned; and it is often elided with ‘common sense’ (Coben, 2002, p.27).


My (Myroslav’s and Taras’) current most useful definition: Numeracy involves the use of number sense and arithmetic to solve problems involving quantities of objects, and/or frequencies of events.

You should have received a neat paper on number sense as an attachment in the email with this link in it.

Our work as teachers, especially in foundations ‘math’ teaching and upgrading, is primarily in Domain One as described by Coben, based on Kell above, but many of the struggling students may be working in Domain Two.  My position is that the Gizmo we are designing must be able to help individuals acclimatize themselves to the abstracted methods of the dominant number system (whether they are numerate in domain 2 or not).  If this is done well, the person can function in both Domaine One and Two translating when needed, just as there are individuals who can speak in various local dialects, and communicate in the formalized literary languages of the states they are living in.


Please take a look at a more detailed description of the learning content and project here.   I would also suggest that you play around a bit with the site.   You can either register yourself as a user (if you haven’t already), or alternately you can log in under one of the following user names   (password = guest4) (password = guest5) (password = guest6)


See you soon,