An investigation into estimation and spatial sense as aspects of workplace numeracy: a case study of recycling and refuse operators within a situated learning model
The abilities to estimate and to exercise spatial awareness are important elements of adult numeracy and are embedded in many workplace activities. However, contributions of these elements of numeracy in workplace activities are often overlooked. Although estimation is noticed, spatial awareness in particular seems to be rarely acknowledged (Marr & Hagston, 2007). This research study first investigates the use of these two elements by drawing on the perspective of numeracy as a situated social practice (Lerman, 2006; Street, Baker, & Tomlin, 2008) in a case study of the work of urban recycling and refuse collection operators. Ethnographic approaches such as observing the operators’ roles in their daily collection work and interviewing them are used to determine which strategies and numeracy practices the operators employ. What is seen is that a collection operator’s ability to estimate and use spatial awareness are important contributors to many of the critical decisions that are regularly made by him or her.
A second part of the research is an investigation of how these operators have acquired the capabilities to make estimates and to be spatially aware. Although estimation and spatial awareness are established at an early age and then partly fostered in school mathematics themes such as number sense, measurement and geometry, the operators in the main did not recognise a great deal of mathematics in their everyday work. Instead their previous workplace training and experiences of driving and operating heavy equipment appeared to be the main sources of their senses of estimation and spatial awareness. This study demonstrates to trainers and educators they should not assume that these elements of numeracy are common knowledge or even common sense to their staff or students (Sorby, 2003). This study also suggests that estimation and spatial awareness practices which are concealed in workplaces and are probably overlooked, are challenging to assess by traditional measures. Hence trainers and educators need to continue to promote and model estimation practices, and even more deliberately, provide learning opportunities of those relevant components of spatial awareness for learners of any age.