How to Contextualize Math Using Infographics

bio pic Patricia Helmuth2 (2)

Patricia Helmuth

Patricia Helmuth is an Adult Numeracy Consultant and Educator. She teaches two HSE classes, does one-on-one tutoring (in partnership with the Center for Workforce Development), and is a Professional Development Team Member for the Adult Program at Sullivan County BOCES, NY. In addition to working with students, she enjoys sharing her “numeracy adventures” at the regional, state, and national level by presenting at conferences and writing for adult education web-based resources. She currently serves as the newsletter editor for The Adult Numeracy Network.

In a traditional math classroom, where math topics may be taught in isolation, students watch the instructor model a procedure on the board and then students are expected to memorize, repeat, and practice the procedure. The trouble is, many students have difficulty connecting the procedure to real-life applications. This disconnect that students experience is evidenced in ABE/HSE classes, as well as on college campuses in developmental math classes. According to Models of Contextualization in Developmental and Adult Basic Education, “…students who want to be nurses, EMTs, firemen…. are stuck in a course that doesn’t work.” Conversely, when math is contextualized, students can develop conceptual understanding of the math.  “Research supports the fact that students understand math better when it is contextualized. It motivates and increases the students’ willingness to engage (Tabach & Friedlander, 2008) and provides concrete meaning to the math (Heid et all, 1995).” – (2015 Center for Energy Workforce Development)

In light of this research, and the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the release of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, adult education instructors are being called upon to make changes in classroom practice that will adequately prepare students to pass new high-stakes exams and enter college and the workforce with marketable skills. How can adult educators do all this given the short amount of time that adults typically spend in class?

A great place to start is by using a variety of authentic infographics that connect to the social studies, science, or career readiness that you are already teaching. By using infographics, you are combining content knowledge, math skills, and analyzing and interpreting graphic information into one lesson! While infographics may be new to some of us in adult education, they are not new to our students. They see them all the time in the real world so it is imperative that they develop skills to decode them. Besides all that, they are fun! Students are drawn into a conversation when you display an infographic and simply ask:

  • What do you notice? What do you wonder?

Students at all ability levels can participate in a lesson that is introduced like this. Furthermore, when students share out their observations and questions it serves as a formative assessment and enables the instructor to connect what students already know with the whatever math concept the instructor has in mind to draw out of the infographic.

For specific lesson plans and ideas on how to do this, go to:

In the Adult Education classroom today, we need to do more than present our students with workbooks that include traditional examples of maps, charts, and graphs.  We need to use what our students see all around them every day: infographics.


Center for Energy Workforce Development (2015). Contextualized math for the energy industry. Retrieved from

Education Development Center (EDC). (2012). Models of Contextualization in Developmental and Adult Basic Education. Retrieved from EDC website:


Program Improvement in Adult Education through Professionalization

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David Borden

David Borden,, currently works at Austin Community College as the Director of the Career Accelerator, a program dedicated to moving non-traditional students through career pathways–associate degree programs faster and with more supports. He holds a Master’s Degree from UNT. He has taught and managed programs in the U.S. and abroad. This article is adapted from a forthcoming book titled, Unrig the Game: A Proven, Systematic Approach to Successful College Transitions for Adult and Developmental Education Students, with co-author, Charlene Gill.

Payne et al. (2012) show that full-time Adult Basic Education instructors achieve better student performance results than part-time instructors. Unfortunately, very few program directors believe they can afford the expense of hiring full-time instructors. During my nine year tenure as the adult education director at ACC, I oversaw the increase of salaried instructors with health insurance and retirement increase from 9 to 22. During that period, we made significant investments in instructor salary and benefits, but also witnessed significant enrollment increases and performance improvements.

I believe the path to professionalizing the industry is not found in low pay and/or encouraging regions to use more volunteers. Rather, the path is by providing teachers with stable employment, health insurance, retirement plans, and sustained and systematic professional development; by engaging them in decision-making; and by moving away from a seniority system to one that rewards excellence in teaching.

Raising teacher salaries is a long term solution that is difficult to implement in the short term. In our case, salaried instructors cost 30% – 50% more than hourly instructors when you factor in health insurance and retirement plans. This expense can be hard on a limited grant budget, and impossible on a small budget. We have a large enough program (about 4,000 students served per year) that I could find places to reallocate resources. I shut down classes with low enrollment, even with long-standing, high-profile partners that didn’t appreciate being sacrificed for the greater good. Every four classes closed generated a twenty-hour-a-week, salaried instructor with full benefits. Average class sizes grew, but we still capped enrollment at 20 per class.

This strategy created a core faculty that often accrue between 30 and 50 hours of professional development per year. These faculty are engaged in curriculum development, mentoring hourly instructors, and leading workshops. Over the years, hourly and salaried instructors have seen our commitment to them, and they have returned that commitment to the program. These changes have increased our ability to recruit teachers because salaries are more competitive with staff jobs at the college; thus, our ratio of teachers with master’s degrees has doubled. In addition, we’ve reduced costs associated with attrition and training.

In conclusion, we only hire the highest quality instructors into the core faculty. We do not follow a seniority system, but rather look to fill these positions with teachers who not only are effective with students, but also demonstrate a belief in the mission of the division by collaborating well with their colleagues to make considerable contributions.


Payne, E.M., Reardon, R.F., Janysek, D.M., Lorenz, M., Lampi, J.P. (2012). Impact on student performance: Texas Adult Education Teacher Credential Study preliminary results. Report for The Texas Adult Education Credential Project, Texas State University


Beyond Pro and Con: Re-thinking MOOCs

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William J. Barry

While pursuing his research interests, which include effective technology use, especially among students in transition, William J. Barry teaches developmental reading at St. Edward’s University.  He also trains adult educators in partnership with the Texas Center for the Advancement of Literacy and Learning (TCALL), and teaches first-year seminar at Texas State University, where he is a PhD candidate in developmental education.

Questions of access and affordability remain at the heart of the developmental education discussion (Braun, 2016; Floyd, Felsher, & Ramdin, 2016), and as the results of Moore’s Law continue to bring the world increasingly powerful technology, stakeholders turn to ones and zeroes for answers.  Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) represent one such proposal enjoying ample coverage in the literature (e.g., Bastedo, 2016; McClure, 2016).  Advocates say MOOCs increase the accessibility of high-quality education while decreasing the costs (Carey, 2012; Teo, 2015), and critics point to the low academic rigor of MOOCs, while suggesting they profit at the expense of faculty and students (Axmann & Atkins, 2016; Marshall, 2014).

Despite this crucial debate, MOOC critiques rarely consider college students’ perceptions and attitudes.  While administrators, faculty, and media argue apace, it remains unclear how students view MOOCs.  As an educator in the developmental space, I consider students the primary stakeholders.  As such, I expect MOOC policy to benefit students first.  I expect researchers and faculty interested in MOOCs to focus on how students perceive these issues.  After all, their education faces significant transformation in the face of widespread MOOC implementation.

Such expectations drew my attention to a recent study (Cole & Timmerman, 2015), which examined students’ MOOC perceptions.  Using thematic analysis, Cole and Timmerman (2015) suggested students believe MOOCs hold the potential to augment lifelong learning, even though they serve as inferior alternatives to traditional coursework.  Students made their determinations based on several interesting criteria (see Figure 1), which suggest a deeper appreciation for what works in education.  These kinds of nuanced student responses also suggest the value of asking deeper questions regarding MOOC utility, rather than yielding to seductive pro/con binaries.  Answers to such questions inform decisions with regard to the place of MOOCs in higher education, and those decisions stand to affect each one of us in yet unseen ways.

Figure 1.

bill barrys infograph

Click on image to enlarge.


Axmann, M., & Atkins, R. (2016). Online community-based practices for massive open online courses (MOOCs) at Open Universities Australia: A case Study. User-Centered Design Strategies for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), 83.

Bastedo, M. N. (2016). American higher education in the twenty-first century: Social, political, and economic challenges. Baltimore, MD: JHU Press.

Braun, H. (2016). The dynamics of opportunity in America: A working framework. In The Dynamics of Opportunity in America (pp. 137-164). New York: Springer International Publishing.

Carey, K. (2012, September 7). Into the future with MOOCs. Chronicle of Higher Education, 59(2), 29.

Cole, A. W., & Timmerman, C. E. (2015). What do current college students think about MOOCs? MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 11, 188-201.

Floyd, D. L., Felsher, R. A., & Ramdin, G. (2016). A retrospective of four decades of community college research. Community College Journal of Research and Practice40(1), 5-22.

Marshall, S. (2014). Exploring the ethical implications of MOOCs. Distance Education, 35, 250-262. doi:10.1080/01587919.2014.917706

McClure, M. W. (2016). Investing in MOOCs: “Frenemy” risk and information quality. In Globalisation and Higher Education Reforms (pp. 77-94). New York: Springer International Publishing.

Teo, T. H. (2015). Just-in-time teaching visual instruction for cohort base interactive learning for engineering course. GSTF Journal on Education (JEd)3(1).