Numeracy Initiative: Discipline-Specific Mathematics Instruction

Numeracy can be defined as the ability to engage with quantitative information in a given context, academic or beyond, by using mathematics as an analytical tool. UTM’s Academic Plan and Implementation Plan have both identified “numeracy” as a key priority. One of the Goals outlined in UTM’s Academic Plan (2017) is to “inspire student success by supporting a rigorous and innovative academic environment.” To achieve this goal, UTM promises in the Academic Plan to focus on strategies for “developing students communication skills from foundational to advanced levels (written, numerical, analytical, oral, and visual)”.

Numeracy Support for PHY147H

In support of this part of the Academic Plan, the RGASC has explored a number of approaches to providing students with numeracy support. An example of one strategy we piloted in the Winter 2018 term is a series of supplementary Math/Physics sessions offered in PHY147H.

The goal was to provide students with foundational calculus and linear algebra support, since physics students are required to use mathematical facts, formulae, and algorithms before these are taught in mathematics courses, and then connect the mathematics to physics concepts learnt in the course.

With support from the Office of the Dean, the RGASC’s Numeracy Specialist and a Teaching Assistant developed and delivered these sessions. The sessions were:

  • optional;
  • free of charge; and
  • held outside of the regularly-scheduled classes and labs.

A total of 16 hours of supplementary math sessions were offered throughout the term.

Summary of Sessions:

Two weekly sessions are designed to support students in PHY147H in learning, and gaining practice with, mathematical concepts which they need in the course and their future physics studies. 

  • The first session in each week focuses on explaining necessary mathematical facts, techniques, and/or routines, followed by students’ collaborative work on exercises, in-class, to solidify their understanding of the material presented in the session.
  • The second session ties the mathematical techniques and routines to the physics concepts discussed in PHY147H.

Students are encouraged to attend these sessions (on a voluntary basis); the sessions will help them not only to better understand underlying mathematics, but will enable them (once mathematics is no longer a stumbling block) to gain a deeper insights into physics concepts and ideas in PHY147H.

Future Projects

We hope to offer similar forms of numeracy support in other courses next year. Instructors interested in participating in this kind of project are encouraged to contact Dr. Andie Burazin by email at a.burazin@utoronto.ca.