Engaging non-specialist students with maths

Image by Kristian Cruz

Students often encounter maths when they least expect it - for example on business and psychology courses. Explore ways to engage non-specialist students with quantitative skills alongside author and educator Tony Croft, in conversation with Pearson's Richelle Zakrzewski.

"Good numeracy is the best protection against unemployment, low wages and poor health."

- Andreas Schleicher, OECD

In a series of blog posts and one minute video interviews with Tony Croft on numeracy, I will be exploring why this skill is such an important part of the university and post-graduation experience for students. We will be covering topics such as:

  • providing personalised support and feedback for your students
  • how digital tools can provide more opportunities for practice and confidence-building, and
  • why it is important to connect with students from a non-maths background so that they understand the need for numeracy skills in their own discipline.

Maths: removing the dread

The need to support students in developing their numeracy skills with confidence and a personalised approach is something that resonates with me personally. Like many adults, I have some harrowing memories of struggling with maths when I was younger.

I recall one particular time in seventh grade when we were asked to solve problems on the chalkboard in front of the class and we were not permitted to sit down until we had correctly solved the problem. I still remember standing in front of the class, tears streaming down my face, as I nervously tried to solve the equation. Finally, I reached the correct answer and could take my seat, yet the memory of this experience still haunts me.

We know that many students can relate to these feelings of self-doubt and fear when it comes to maths, yet numeracy is one of the most critical skills that all graduates will need when entering the workforce.

According to the National Numeracy Organisation, people with poor numeracy skills are more than twice as likely to be unemployed and, perhaps even more troubling, there is also a link between depression and poor numeracy (according to OECD and UK Basic Skills reports). Thus, the need for proficiency and confidence in numeracy is too great to ignore.

It’s our job to make sure that they see the importance or the relevance of what it is we’re encouraging them to learn.

Tony Croft, Loughborough University

Real world application is the key

Co-author of Foundation Mathematics, Engineering Mathematics, and Mathematics for Engineers and SIGMA honoree Tony Croft has dedicated his life to helping students build these skills that we all understand to be so important for success in both university and after.

I recently sat down with Tony and asked him how to engage with students who come from non-maths backgrounds. ‘It’s our job to make sure that they see the importance or the relevance of what it is we’re encouraging them to learn,’ Tony advised. If students understand why the maths is important to them, they will be more likely to stay engaged with the material.

What student engagement looks like

We understand that keeping students engaged can be challenging, but what does student engagement really look like? We also posed this question to Tony Croft and he had this to say: ‘We find that lots of students are engaged but equally lots of students aren’t. In the lecture theatre, I think it’s our job to make them interested in the material, to awaken them, to arouse their interest and to make them want to engage with the material.’

How Pearson can support numeracy skills

To support you in helping your students develop their numeracy skills, Pearson has developed MyLab Math. Part of the world’s leading collection of online homework, tutorial, and assessment products, MyLab Math includes hundreds of practice questions with automated feedback and hints. It is designed to react to how students are actually performing, offering data-driven guidance that helps students better absorb course material and understand difficult concepts.

MyLab Math is available to support students across STEM and business modules, alongside core texts like Tony's.

MyLab Research is also available to offer bespoke statistics support in psychology courses. Learn more about quantitative skill support for psychology.


National Numeracy Association: Why numeracy is important

About the author

Richelle Zakrzewski is part of the UK higher education marketing team. She worked with Pearson in the US for four years before moving to London in 2015, and has a background in both sales and product development. She enjoys visiting galleries in London and spending time with her chihuahua.