2016 – A Great Year at the Maths Lab

project1The Maths lab at Ukhanyo School continues to produce extremely encouraging results. Following on from the practices developed last year, each day starts with a “morning dance”, and then learners work for 10 minutes on revision sheets that cover concepts taught over the course of the entire year, thus giving the children daily reminders of Maths skills.

The biggest challenge was to convince teachers to swap lengthy lectures for student drills, games, and practice activities. Hence, we established a weekly faculty meeting to discuss how students learn best and what activities produce the desired results.

Over the year, we watched the teachers adopt the new ideas about  Maths instruction – especially when they saw the effects that these “new strategies” had on the learners, the improvement of classroom management, (students no longer bored) and the impressive test scores – just look at this improvement:



Masicorp will be showcasing the Maths Lab at the Horses for Causes race day at Kenilworth Racecourse on Feb 11th. Entry is free so why not co e along for some racing and support ourselves and the other NGO’s participating on the day. Further details are available here:

Extra Maths Classes for Masi High Students

For several years Masicorp has run a program to provide additional maths tuition to Masiphumelele High School learners, with the help of volunteer Mr Rob Douglas, a mathematics teacher from nearby Fish Hoek High School. This year Rob has started running an additional after school class on Thursdays. The sessions are run at Fish Hoek High thanks to funding from Masicorp that provides transport for the learners from Masiphumelele.

classRob’s counterpart at Masiphumelele High, Mr Mlandu, has offered the classes to his learners and arranges for about 20 students to attend each week. A few learners from Fish Hoek High also attend but the large majority of the class travel from Masiphumelele. The classes are voluntary, but are popular with those students who are keen to improve their maths grades. With mathematics remaining a problem subject area in South Africa this is an important initiative.

RD1The learners from Masiphumelele get the advantage of Rob’s time, as well as some of his Fish Hoek colleagues and Mr Mlandu, as well as the benefits of a small class with excellent teaching facilities. Each week Mr Mlandu suggests particular problem areas in the curriculum that the class have struggled with and Rob takes them through some examples. Actual questions from past exam papers are worked through with guidance from the teaching volunteers.

As with the Saturday morning sessions, the extra tuition for the Masi High students can only help improve their Matric prospects and their willingness to attend these after school sessions a testament to the quality of education on offer and their positive attitude toward learning. Once again we have to thank the staff at both schools for making this hugely important project happen.

An Update from the Maths Lab

Earlier this year we reported that the maths lab at Ukhanyo School was ready to receive learners. Thanks to the generous contributions of our donors and the skilled craftsmanship of Masicorp volunteer Paul Dibble, the Lab environment is inviting and comfortable and we are pleased to report that good progress continues to be made.

In May we were able to hire a full-time Maths Lab Assistant, Nothula2kathula Gomba, (Thula).  Thula is from the local community and has experience as an after-school maths mentor.  She hopes to have a teaching career in the future and is seen here in the lab with Laurie.

Each morning four sections of grade 4 learners spend 45-50 minutes in the Lab with their teacher, Scott or Laurie, together with Thula. The aim is to demonstrate that efficiency of learning, knowledge retention, and even student behaviour improve directly as classroom instruction shifts from a teacher-centric to a student-centric model.  All 240 grade 4 learners are taken through the same curriculum, and each teacher gets to observe lessons taught by Scott or Laurie. Later in the same week, they teach the lessons that they have observed and grow in their own teaching skills.

teacher 2It has been pleasing to see the teachers rearrange their own classrooms to emulate the Maths Lab setup, so that they can circulate and observe learner progress more readily. Scott and Laurie recently returned from a four week winter break in the US and found that the Maths Lab was being used effectively with the teachers following the lesson plans that had been left in place. In particular Zama Maqwathini (seen here with his class) has demonstrated a lot of energy and excitement about this new experience. In the first week after the return of Scott and Laurie he was ready to teach a lesson to his 2nd section of students, after watching Scott model the lesson with his 1st section.  However, he asked if he could modify the lesson slightly and greatly improved the learning experience with his ideas.


This first half of year has been more challenging than expected, with delays in setting up and acquiring classroom materials, but the rewards have far exceeded our hopes. Our thanks go out to the many donors that have helped to fund this ambitious project.

The Maths Lab is Ready for Learners

There is no escape from the fact that Mathematics is a problem subject area for South African learners. While many schools across the country have reported good matric pass levels, the national press has been quick to report that mathematics pass grades are falling – and this is even true in the generally less taxing mathematics literacy subject area. It is even more worrying to note that in many parts of the country this poor performance in mathematics is linked to a lack of ability in the teachers delivering the subject material. This was highlighted in the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Global Information Technology report, which ranked South Africa’s science and maths education as the worst in the world.

Much has subsequently being written about the report and its perceived shortcomings, but many education experts in South Africa have recognised the need for a better quality of learning experience in the science and maths subject areas. The Centre for Development and Enterprise has specifically addressed the issues around maths education in South Africa in a series of reports that can be downloaded HERE.

We have previously reported how the Science Lab project is bucking the national trend in science education at Ukhanyo School in Masiphumelele. This month sees the start of a similar initiative to improve mathematics teaching. The Maths Lab is a refurbished classroom in Ukhanyo School, where we will be attempting to raise the quality of the learning experience for teachers and learners from Grade 4 onward.

S & L 3Masicorp is very fortunate to have Scott and Laurie Smith to lead the project. Scott is a qualified engineer and mathematics teacher, who has taught maths from elementary to high school level in the United States. Scott and Laurie arrived in Cape Town six-months ago to establish the Maths Lab and have spent that time designing an open learning space with re-usable teaching aids, which Ukhanyo teachers will have access to for maths classes. They have spent much of their recent time trialing the new teaching aids with Grade 4 learners, who have responded very positively to the increased contact time.

Previously teachers were having to select one pupil at a time to solve problems on a blackboard in front a class of around 40 learners. Now each student will have their own whiteboard, and all learners can work through the same problems together. Scott will be available to guide the teachers in the use of the new materials and to advise them on how to improve the learning experience for their learners. Just as with the Science Lab, the aim is teach the teachers so that the facilty becomes a sustainable resource for the school.

student maths

Scott and Laurie have volunteered their time for three years to manage the project, with start-up funds for the new facility being provided by an extremely generous anonymous donor from the United States, as well as Bateleur Capital in South Africa and a few others. We cannot thank them enough for their commitment, and with the first classes due to start at the end of this month we know the teachers and learners at Ukhanyo will also soon be extremely grateful for their work at the school.