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: