My name is Dan Ma. This is a blog where I present and discuss examples of data found in the Internet and other places with the goal of making sense of the data and putting the numerical examples in context. This blog is my small attempt to add to the discussion of quantitative literacy.
The target audience is anyone who has problems moving forward in their schooling or moving ahead in their career due to the lack of basic math and quantitative skills. This blog is not about teaching students how to attain “dry” math skills such as manipulating algebraic symbols in an algebra course (e.g. solving algebraic equations). This blog is not tied to any specific math courses. Rather the blog is about a larger set of skills, often called quantitative literacy or numeracy. The ideas for this blog stemmed from my working with undergraduate students at various colleges and universities in the United States.
My most recent teaching stint was at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, California, teaching introductory statistics. For many students, my students included, the reason for taking math and statistics courses is because of transfer requirements and graduation requirements. At the community college level, many of students take math and stats courses in order to transfer to the Cal State system or the University of California system. The math and statistics requirements pose a vexing challenge for some of these students. These students want to move forward in their schooling or move ahead in their career. But they lack the math and statistical skills and confidence to pass the courses.
These students may benefit by building up their quantitative literacy. This approach is parallel to the situation where students wanting to pass English course requirements must improve on language literacy.
Some people refer to quantitative literacy as a larger set of skills involving critical thinking, problem formulation, and written and oral communication. This set of skills certainly includes having a strong number sense, which at minimum usually means being proficient at estimation, unit conversions, and the uses of percentages. More broadly, having a strong number sense and being quantitatively literate should prepare students for careers and lives that will be filled with quantitative information and decisions.
So achieving some degree of quantitative literacy could very well be the “real” prerequisite for many of the basic math courses (that are to fulfill general educational requirements in many degree programs). How to improve quantitative literacy? There are math courses on quantitative skills that are primarily designed for liberal arts majors. There are excellent books on numeracy (the ones written by John Allen Paulos come to mind).
One type of exercises that might be helpful is to examine quantitative examples in news and magazines and other media. One of my goals is to present such examples in non-mathematical ways and attempt to put the numerical examples in context and to find meanings. In addition to such examples, this blog will also be a mixed bag of many things – book reviews, stories of people who are in the frontline of helping students improving quantitative literacy and the discussion of various issues regarding quantitative literacy.