Report on Maths Congress

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By Magret Courtney-Clark SWAKOPMUND The 2nd National Mathematics Congress, which was held at Namib High School in Swakopmund from 14 to 16 May 2007, was attended by 155 mathematics educators from all regions in the country. The delegates included classroom teachers from primary schools to senior secondary schools, university and college lecturers as well as officials from NIED and the Ministry of Education. Children must be motivated to make sense of mathematics by being actively involved in doing and thinking about mathematics. This was the main message that was conveyed to teachers during plenary and parallel sessions. Two-hour workshops involved teachers in many hands-on activities, investigations and games that can be used in the classroom to develop number sense and problem-solving abilities. In some workshops there was such a level of absorption in the activities that it was difficult to get the teachers out of the classroom – just image if the learners could be so engaged that they would regret that the maths lessons were over instead of giving a sigh of relief when the bell rings! Hanlie Murray, a researcher and lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch, is an expert in the development of number sense and problem solving at primary school level. Thomas Hagspihl, who is a member of the South African Mathematics Olympiad Committee, asked the question, “Do your lessons get your learners to think?” and shared with secondary school teachers teaching approaches and activities that stimulate learners to ask “why” and engages them in analysing the mathematics behind given situations or surprising results. Eva Biebuyck from the HOPE (Help Our People to Excel) project in Johannesburg focused on the aspect of creativity in the classroom and the use of manipulatives to develop mathematical concepts. In her workshops teachers experienced the joy and satisfaction that comes from being totally absorbed in a meaningful activity. Barbara Redmond, a VSO teacher from the Caprivi Region, shared a wide variety of games that can be used in the classroom. The panel discussion stimulated interest groups to come up with problems that are experienced at different levels of mathematics education. At each level, but especially lower primary level, overcrowded classrooms were mentioned as one of the main problems. The question was asked: How can I teach 45 or more Grade 1 learners in one class and ensure that each one develops both reading and numeracy skills? Other common problems are language issues, lack of textbooks, materials and other resources (especially with the implementation of new and revised syllabuses) – and the lack of in-service training opportunities. In his opening remarks Stanley Simaata, the Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, referred to the Education and Training Sector Improvement Plan, in which provision has been made to engage a taskforce and consultants to come up with a strategic plan for the improvement of mathematics education in the country. He welcomed gatherings such as the Congress as contributing to “a thorough foundation, continuous improvement of practice and most of all demystification of the bad connotation and perception of the subject Mathematics”. Comments made by the participants such as, “My attitude and approach towards the subject has significantly improved/changed by the Congress” show that this has indeed been achieved. During the Congress local publishers exhibited their new mathematics textbooks that have been written in line with the revised mathematics syllabuses and teachers had the opportunity to browse and inform themselves on what is available. Representatives of Casio Calculators demonstrated their latest scientific calculator that has been developed for secondary schools and offered to give training workshops on calculator use at future congresses. The delegates expressed their appreciation to the sponsors, the speakers and facilitators, the organisers, the helpers and the Ministry of Education who all contributed to the success of the Congress. They recommended that the Congress should become an annual event, that at the next Congress each region should make a contribution to the proceedings and that more time should be allocated to discuss common and local problems in mathematics education and to find solutions.