Developing mathematical literacy through environmental education curriculum materials

Mathematical literacy is a problem among teachers teaching in rural areas of South Africa. "We Care" is a curriculum package which was developed in order to assistIntermediate Phase (IP) teachers to integrate environmental education across curriculum. In a previous study it was found that the teachers skipped all the activities which involved some basic mathematical operations. Our objective was to find out the extent of illiteracy among the educators who were using "We Care" materials in their intermediate phase classes. This exploration was important because learners must, from as early as possible, learn precise ways of describing environmental relationships. If their teachers have problems with simple mathematical operations, this will not happen. Quantitative methods are becoming very important for understanding and analysing information about the environment. A constructivist approach was used to determine the teachers difficulties in carrying out simple environmental problems which needed basic mathematical competence. This was done in a workshop setting with the teachers working in groups and carrying out the activities without assistance by the facilitators. The results showed that the teachers have phobia against mathematics, lack the ability to read carefully and analyse word problems. They also had misconceptions about certain simple mathematical operations. The workshop also offered an opportunity for the teachers to discover their shortcomings in mathematical literacy and to realise that in todays technological society, mathematical literacy is important. In a second workshop the teachers problems were addressed and the teachers were assisted to work through some of the activities they feared.