Meeting an urgent need

SA’s economic challenges require it to urgently improve the quality of science teaching and learning. Education is critical to the development of any country and a lack of science graduates affects industry and the economy.

South Africa came 39th out of 39 countries in a 2016 assessment that focused on the science performance of Grade 9s. Only 18% of high schools have laboratories, which are unevenly spread across South Africa’s nine provinces.

Radical interventions are needed now, or South Africa will not become a global player in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The country must develop new educator training methods and nurture supportive environments for educators. 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

The STEAM Foundation focuses on fostering 21st century skills. These include creativity, collaboration, problem-solving and the critical-thinking skills needed for the 4th Industrial Revolution, and which will enable young South Africans to seize the opportunities offered by technological advances.

The focus is on innovative training and materials that create positive learning environments. This encourages self-guided and team learning, and fosters inquiry-based and cooperative learning, scientific thinking, judgement and decision-making.

SA’s Education Challenges

Skilled and motivated educators are essential to improving education in SA. The STEAM Foundation provides professional educator development through innovative teaching and learning tools, and the creation of support networks for educators. SA remains a high-potential country, but the quality of its primary education ranks 116 out of 137 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2017/18 Global Competitiveness Index.

More than just a box

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.

Educator Development

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

CAPS – Aligned

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).

SACE points

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

SACE points

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.

Science Week

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.

Ntuthuko Buthelezi

Science is something that I love. There was a shortage of educators while I was studying for my BSc in mathematics and science and so I became an educator before I got my qualification. I did my Post-graduate Certificate in Education, and I’m now working on my Honours degree in mathematics.

My background is in chemistry, so I’m not an expert in concepts like electricity. The STEAM Foundation’s training was fantastic. We were able to observe concepts with our eyes and see how things like circuits work. The facilitators were very good. The training gave me confidence for teaching natural sciences to my learners. We weren’t able to do demonstrations before, and the learners were disadvantaged. The Experimento kit has made the learners excited for practical lessons. Now they understand. I have seen an improvement in the class work I give my learners, their ability to understand is totally different from what I’ve seen in other years. The kit has made it possible for me to inspire. Even I have gained more knowledge and understanding of natural sciences.

– Ntuthuko Buthelezi
Banguni Secondary School, Mdlebeni, KwaZulu Natal

Lihlikusasa Khuzwayo

I want to help others, particularly young people, to realise their dreams. I became a teacher because I wanted to give back to the community, and I chose to teach science because there is so much you can learn. It’s one of the most interesting subjects. Before I received the STEAM Foundation training and the Experimento materials I found it very difficult to explain certain concepts like electricity. Learners could only imagine the concepts, and many are visual learners who absorb knowledge better when they can see something physical. As a teacher, you need to be able to demonstrate in order for your learners to get a full understanding. That was the biggest challenge I faced in the classroom.

The educator seminar helped me clarify many things in my own mind, especially the activity involving lightbulbs. The practicals made concepts clearer. When I took the Experimento kit to school, my learners were so excited to see it. Suddenly, they were proud to be a part of the lesson, and they wanted to participate, even students who are shy or naughty. The children are working together and are more interested in science. Whenever you bring something into the classroom it arouses their interest, compared to a simple text book. I would say the results of having the kit are that the learners are eager to learn and want to participate. They want to touch something, and experience it.

Since the training I have found it easier to communicate concepts to the learners, and the subject has become more interesting for me. Everything is more interesting. I’m more excited to go into the classroom knowing everyone will be a part of the lesson. I also know that the learning outcomes/objectives will be easier to achieve.
The challenge is that we only have one kit, and so our large classes have to share. This can be difficult.

– Lihlikusasa Khuzwayo
Ukukhanyakwezwe Secondary School, Nhlanomfula, KwaZulu Natal

Nobuhle Mbotho

I became a life sciences and mathematics teacher because I want to understand what is happening around me. Understanding how the world operates is very important, and that’s something I want to pass on to the next generation.

The training provided by the STEAM Foundation was incredibly informative. Something I’ve struggled with in my classroom is explaining circuitry. Without practicals I could only explain electricity theoretically, and some learners really struggled to grasp the concept. The training and Experimento kits have given my students the opportunity to visualise how electricity works, and I feel more confident as I’ve found new ways of explaining complex ideas to them. The effect in my classroom is remarkable. Now that there is something to see, students are eager to learn about how electricity works. It has also brought the children closer together. They are learning how to lean on one another for information, and are working better together. One of my students even came to me and said they now want to be an electrical engineer – that’s the kind of difference this training has made to their learning experience.

At the training I engaged with different teachers, and we were able to share our challenges and our solutions to those challenges.

– Nobuhle Mbotho
Banguni Secondary School, Mdlebeni, KwaZulu Natal

Nigel Beck

In our groups we discussed different methods of teaching each section. The more we spoke, the more ideas we got for different teaching techniques. Your method of teaching might work for some learners, but others will like something completely different. It’s important to cater to the needs of all your students. Some are visual, some are more practical, and some are fine with just listening. What’s good for one, won’t necessarily be good for someone else.

I liked that we got to do some practical work at the STEAM Foundation training. Our school isn’t a very rich school, so it’s nice to have a circuit board near you so that the children can actually see what you’re speaking about. They don’t just hear random words like ‘cells’ and ‘circuit boards’. The children are very excited to use the Experimento science kit. I can see their enthusiasm.

– Nigel Beck
Bethelsdorp High School, Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape

Nomava Mlandu

I really recommend the STEAM Foundation training. It increased my confidence and was helpful for topics I didn’t understand. Last term I didn’t understand much about chemical reactions, but the training helped me get a better understanding. I also learnt how to create a lesson plan which helped with my planning and to be more organised.

In the past we lacked the materials needed to do practical work. But with the Experimento kit the children can do the practical work by themselves. They enjoy the subject and understand it better.
We also learnt to explain scientific concepts to the learners using examples that they can relate to. For example, to teach acceleration, you explain how a car pulls off from a traffic light and increases its speed. And when you teach acids and bases, you tell them about the vinegar they have at home.

– Nomava Mlandu
Motherwell High School, Motherwell, Eastern Cape

Andile Sanqela

The STEAM Foundation training changed my teaching style and gave me ideas to make science interesting for my grade 8 learners. We learnt how to teach the curriculum in different ways and now I incorporate drawing into my classes.

I learnt that the way we entice learners into the content is by letting them draw the electrical appliances that they know, like a TV, microwave or iron. After they’ve drawn it, you ask them how it works. You plug it in, flip the switch on the wall and the TV lights up. Then you explain how that happens. The learners realise that these are everyday things that they can relate to and that has really boosted their confidence. Their attitudes towards science have also improved – they really like the subject now!

The training also gave me a better idea of what science is all about and my enjoyment and confidence in the subject has increased.

Connecting with the other teachers at the training was very valuable. We shared our experiences and teaching methods. Teaching is a skill which needs to be worked on every day, and this is how you enhance those skills. We also moderate and comment on each other’s test and exam papers on Google Drive, and the STEAM Foundation trainers provide support when necessary.

I really recommend the training.

– Andile Sanqela
Molly Blackburn Secondary School, Uitenhage, Eastern Cape

Nkosazana (Khosi) Selanto

I learnt things at the STEAM Foundation training that were new to me. The trainer showed us how to use the Experimento science kit and answered our questions until we were comfortable to use it ourselves. I enjoyed the challenge.

We have about 40 learners in each class, so the teachers use the science kit to do demonstrations. The children are more actively involved and more engaged. Most of them concentrate better and are more interested in the subject now.

The teachers are very happy too, because they always ask me if they can use the kit.

Inquiry-based learning is interesting. Learners become bored when you teach them theory only. The training taught us that the children must be actively involved in learning. They must be able to see more than they can read in the text book.

When I was a school child in the township, we mostly did theory. There was no apparatus. At least today’s children can see how everything works.

– Nkosazana (Khosi) Selanto – Natural Sciences head of department
KwaMagxaki High School, Ibhayi, Eastern Cape