In early 2020, much of the world was introduced to the concept of digital resiliency whether we knew it or not. In the blink of an eye, professionals were sent home to continue doing their jobs using new or vaguely familiar technologies, students were tasked with learning through a camera lens, and educators had to adapt curricula that had been designed for in-person instruction to the requirements of distance learning. It quickly became clear how essential digital resiliency was and that all of us needed to develop it.
As a numeracy and mathematics educator and advocate, I couldn’t help but see the connections between digital resiliency and numeracy—both of which are essential for all adults to have, both inside and outside of the classroom.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) quotes the definition of numeracy used in the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). Numeracy is
the ability to access, use, interpret, and communicate mathematical information and ideas, in order to engage in and manage the mathematical demands of a range of situations in adult life. Numerate behavior involves managing a situation or solving a problem in a real context by responding to mathematical content/information/ideas represented in multiple ways.
Numeracy skills allow individuals to think critically about and respond to mathematical information that they encounter. The PIAAC description quoted by NCES notes that “numerate behavior is founded on the activation of several enabling factors and processes:
- Mathematical knowledge and conceptual understanding
- Adaptive reasoning and mathematical problem-solving skills
- Literacy skills
- Beliefs and attitudes
- Numeracy-related practices and experience
- Context/world knowledge”
As learners strengthen their numeracy skills and mathematical understanding, they inevitably begin to build certain habits of mind. These habits of mind are demonstrated in the College & Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) Standards for Mathematical Practice, which include the following:
- Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
- Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
- Reason abstractly and quantitatively
These habits of mind are also evident in individuals’ beliefs about and attitudes toward numeracy. As NCES notes, “the inclusion of ‘engage’ in the definition [of numeracy] signals that not only cognitive skills but also dispositional elements—i.e., beliefs and attitudes—are necessary for effective and active coping with numeracy situations.”
Digital resiliency, defined as the awareness, skills, agility, and confidence to be empowered users of new technologies and adapt to changing digital skill demands (Digital US, 2020), has five key components:
- Problem solving
- Critical thinking
- Communication and information sharing
- Productive struggle
Critical thinking and problem solving thus are fundamental to both numeracy and digital resiliency. In fact, one could argue that all “literacies” (for example, data literacy, information literacy, digital literacy, financial literacy) require an individual to think critically and solve problems. Consequently, as educators and proponents of literacy, we must view every lesson, every task, every conversation as an opportunity to help learners build these two skills and turn them into habits of mind.
When I am faced with a technological challenge that evokes my digital resiliency, my problem solving and critical thinking muscles automatically kick in. I first began to develop these muscles in an algebra classroom, and since then I have continuously strengthened them.
For some, using technology, especially with its rapidly ever-changing nature, can be as much of a challenge as solving a math word problem. For years, the saying I heard the most from students and instructors was, “I’m not a math person.” Now I hear, “I’m not a tech person.” In both instances what the individual is essentially saying is, “I need to strengthen my habits of mind.”
How does one begin to develop and strengthen these habits of mind? One way is by looking for and leaning into opportunities to engage in problem solving and critical thinking that present themselves in daily life. Whether you’re shopping and see the 18 pack of mega rolls of paper towels next to the 12 pack of ultra mega rolls and wonder which one is the better deal, or you’re using PowerPoint on your computer and you inexplicably can’t insert a link into the notes section of a slide, each moment is a habit of mind workout opportunity that will build confidence in your ability to apply your critical thinking and problem solving skills in situations that draw on numeracy and digital resiliency.
We should each challenge ourselves and others to become lifelong and life-wide learners. “Lifewide learning includes all types of learning and personal development–learning…which is directed or self managed, and learning and development in informal (non-educational) situations” (Lifewide Education). If we all do this, then our numeracy and digital resiliency will become stronger and stronger until everyone is empowered enough to say, “I am a math person,” and “I am a tech person.”