Bringing abstract numbers to life
Big stories involve big numbers – billions of pounds of cuts or millions of people flooded. We must relate these to the audience’s daily lives. This project draws on the Learning Development team's experience in communicating data and the Skillswise's team's understanding of numeracy problems to help make numbers more meaningful.
You can see the Number Cruncher prototype running across bbc.co.uk in the video, or play with it yourself on our test page.
The Numeracy Problem
My colleague Michael Rumbelow is a producer on BBC Skillswise, helping the estimated seven million British adults who struggle with the sums of daily life. These include, for example, adding and subtracting pounds and pence in the supermarket. Michael’s work builds on research by adult educators, many of whose students found school maths lessons abstract and symbolic.
We talked about how people who are not good with numbers could get the most out of the BBC. He told me that people can imagine numbers better if given real world examples and visualisations. For example, BBC Skillswise describes negative numbers in terms of overdrafts and subzero weather. Michael also suggested the tried and tested numberline, which is exactly what it sounds like.
Naturally, we wanted to include concrete examples and sophisticated numberlines for many different kinds of number - such as populations, land areas, time elapsed, and volume.
But this is a prototype to try out the idea. This means that instead of achieving all our ambitions, we could only prove the concept on two types of numbers. The prototype displays most numbers on a simple numberline, but treats percentages and money specially. Percentages are compared to 100%, and cash is compared to what you can buy and build with it. This meant choosing new units of currency, like BBC canteen meals, London Taxis, and Olympic games.
Find out more ...
You can play with the Number Cruncher yourself, choosing a pile of cash and discovering what you could buy with it. Or discover how it repurposes a Welsh dictionary and investigate those new currencies.
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