Discovery-based science learning is sorely needed and has a positive impact in South African classrooms. STEAM Foundation NPC has inherited the Siemens Stiftung’s Experimento programme which was piloted over five years, in six Provinces of South Africa and over 200 kits were donated to schools in need.

Unlike other science offerings, which focus strongly on the product or science kit itself, the Experimento programme believes emphatically in teacher education. It trains educators not only on how to teach scientific concepts through hands-on experimentation but also embeds specific training as to how to implement co-operative learning even within the very large classes that can make up the South African teaching environment.

Although it is “more than just a box”, the box itself remains important, since “the way equipment is packaged, facilitates preparation for the lesson. One teacher explained: “The fact that you have a file so that you know what is in the box and how many, makes work effectively” (UCT SDU report, 2016).

As a result of five years of working with the Siemen Stiftung’s Experimento program, piloting over 200 kits in six Provinces of South Africa, STEAM Foundation NPC it is evident that STEAM Foundation NPC’s current focus needs to be is on the final modification and adaptation of Experimento to the South African educational environment in order to ensure success.

Over and above this, STEAM Foundation NPC is committed to ensuring as many kits as possible reach as many schools at as low a cost and high impact. The other key localization of the Experimento programme then is that instead of a “laboratory in a box”, the program is going to be modular, and focus on core and critical concepts per grade per term.

The reasons for this approach are argued below, but hinge specifically on the fact that 4 out of ever 5 High Schools in South Africa do not have a science laboratory. Hence, scale is fundamentally important if we are to have an impact.

The World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Competitiveness Report ranked South Africa last among 140 countries for maths and science – behind poorer countries such as Mozambique and Malawi. source

The 2015 TIMMS (Trends in International Maths and Science Study) indicate that: At grade nine level, the national average score for the country is 372 points for mathematics (38th out of 39 countries) and 358 points for science (last position). source

Generally the learners at independent schools performed very well followed by fee-paying public schools. The worst affected learners are those from no-fee public schools. source

South Africa came 39th out of 39 countries in a 2016 assessment that focused on the science performance of Grade 9s. source

It is further noted in a report by the IRR that only 18% of High Schools have a laboratory‚ and they are unevenly spread across provinces.

Radical interventions are needed now or South Africa will never become a global player in the fourth industrial revolution. The country must develop new teacher training methods and nurture a supportive environment for teachers. Innovative teaching tools should be introduced in the early phases to demystify maths and science for young pupils. If these subjects are more fun to learn, more pupils may be drawn to them as future career options. source

As a result of five years of working with the Siemen Stiftung’s Experimento program, piloting over 200 kits in six Provinces of South Africa, STEAM Foundation NPC it is evident that discovery-based science learning is both needed and has a positive impact in South African classrooms. STEAM Foundation NPC’s current focus is on the final modification and adaptation of Experimento to the South African educational environment in order to ensure success.

Unlike other science offerings, which focus strongly on the product or science kit itself, the Experimento programme believes emphatically in teacher education. It trains educators not only on how to teach scientific concepts through hands-on experimentation but also embeds specific training as to how to implement co-operative learning even within the very large classes that can make up the South African teaching environment.

Although it is “more than just a box”, the box itself remains important, since “the way equipment is packaged, facilitates preparation for the lesson. One teacher explained: “ The fact that you have a file so that you know what is in the box and how many, makes work effectively” (UCT SDU report, 2016).

So as to ensure that as many kits as possible reach as many schools at as low a cost and high impact, instead of a “laboratory in a box”, the program is going to be modular, and focus on core and critical concepts per grade per term.

STEAM Foundation NPC focuses on educator development as confidence, knowledgeable educators are key to success.

Many South African teachers have not experienced science inquiry instruction as learners in their own schooling. Yet it seems self-evident that teachers have to experience an inquiry-based approach to science teaching in order to implement such an approach themselves. (UCT SDU report, 2016)

As the TIMMS presentation states:

  • Teaching and learning interventions must focus sharply on what happens inside schools and classrooms. Classroom teaching must emphasise a strong knowledge base.
  • Both the tangible assets (books, calculators, labs) and non-tangible assets (attitudes, expectations, safety, caring) matter. source

In their report on Siemen Stiftung’s Experimento programme in South Africa, UCT’s Schools Development Unit notes that:

Teachers are more likely to change how they teach if their learning links to their teacher professional development (SACE points) and daily teaching.

STEAM Foundation NPC has worked with UCT’s SDU and other educators and multipliers throughout South Africa to ensure that the experiments are CAPS-aligned (in line with the prescribed national curriculum).

The Experimento seminars are certified as an official further training tool in accordance with the criteria set forth by the South African Council for Educators (SACE) through the UCT Schools Development Unit.

Following a request from the Siemens Stiftung, the SDU developed two UCT-approved and SACE accredited Experimento short courses, one for primary and one for secondary school science teachers. source

Working with Statistics South Africa, and data from the NATEMIS system, STEAM Foundation NPC is establishing a data-driven means whereby the impact of Experimento can be assessed on a continuous basis.

Previous research has been undertaken by UWC and UCT and other publications are in press and Monitoring and Evaluation was undertaken in KZN.

Our brief as the School of Science and Mathematics (SSME) was to set up a pilot investigation into the efficacy of trained science teachers in the use of Experimento10+ and forward any recommendations proffered by participants on successes and challenges faced by science teachers when using the kits. Teachers’ impressions and critiques were positive and are reflected.
(Collaborative Science Project Evaluation Report of the Siemens Stiftung Experimento 10+ by the School of Science and Mathematics Education, University of the Western Cape. Keith Roy Langenhoven & Shafiek Dinie, 26 November 2013)

The equipment is exciting and interesting. There is enough of everything for one class. The fact that you have a file so that you know what it is in the box and how many, makes work effective.

As another educator put it:

I enjoy teaching the subject as I feel a lot more confident about my knowledge and I can see that learners are excited and interested as well. I realised that they can sense my passion and knowledge! 

The experiments we did are very simple and I will be able to do this with my learners.

An Evaluation of the Impact of the Siemens Stiftung 2016 Experimento Programme in the Western Cape by Gillian Kay of The Schools Development Unit, School of Education, University of Cape Town, February 2016 by Gillian Kay and Jonathan Clark.

STEAM will be demonstrating the Lemon Battery from the Experimento programme at Science Week. 

We all use batteries everyday, from cell-phones to flashflight.

But do you understand how chemical batteries work?

How can electrical energy be generated from chemical batteries?

Did you know you can use a lemon to generate electricity? 

The lemon battery experiment shows that the juice of the lemon can be used an an electrolyte. Two nails that are galvanised (a copper nail is an example of a galvanised nail) can be used as the electrodes. If wires are then connected to the lemon via the nails, and if the lemons are grouped together and wired in series, enough electricity can be generated to power a small LED light. 

The hands-on, practical experiment uses co-operative learning to engage students in the construction of core scientific concepts.