The Maths Department at Sparrow School in Melville, Johannesburg has cracked the maths code. Instead of teaching mathematics abstractly, Foundation School teachers are using concrete objects, devices, and physical activities to improve children’s understanding and application of maths. Sparrow Foundation School is a school for learners with special educational needs.

Says Alison Button, Academic Manager, “We all know that a solid foundation in maths is extremely important for most future jobs or careers. However, many children and particularly kids with learning difficulties struggle to grasp mathematical concepts. The way that we have been teaching maths has also not improved the situation.”

According to Button, the school took a chance and embraced a new way of teaching Maths. “We created the experimental space for our teachers to try different approaches at Sparrow and our teachers took up the challenge with vigour!

“After much trial and error but still applying prevailing wisdom, we are now teaching children the way they want to be taught and we are no longer a prisoner of the CAPS curriculum.”

One example of how they teach maths concretely is that the teachers send kids home with sugar beans and instructions for parents to help them develop a genuine interest and love for maths in a simple and practical way. Instead of children seeing numbers on a blackboard, they are using physical objects to make sense of the numbers.

“Another example of concrete learning is how we explain and teach perimeter to children: We ask them to take a measuring wheel, the kind that engineers and architects use, walk around the soccer field to get a sense of distance, and then come back to the classroom and do the calculation. It sounds simple, but it is extremely effective.”

The results have been nothing short of phenomenal. Says Button, “We have been following this adjusted approach since 2020 and have seen a marked difference in maths literacy. Our Grade 2’s are already at Grade 3 level. We are extremely proud of this achievement.”

According to Button, they have also adjusted their assessment methods. “We use photographs and videos to ‘test’ the children. Yes, it takes a bit longer to do the tests, but the flipside is that teachers pay individual attention to learners, which is extremely valuable in the learning process.

“We are excited about the future of teaching and learning, and already exploring different ways to adapt our approaches to others subjects too,” she concludes.


About The Sparrow Foundation School:
The Sparrow Foundation School
was officially established in 1995, as a response to the demand for specialised, learner-centred education for children coming from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as those with remedial needs. The school first emerged in 1989 as a small Saturday morning school in Joubert Park, run by founder and General Manager – Jackie Gallagher.

The Foundation School, which is both independent and registered as a school for Learners with Special Educational Needs (LSEN), offers affordable, quality special needs education to learners unable to access specialised services, given the rising cost of remedial teaching and learning facilities. A combination of well trained, caring teachers, small classes and new era global programmes, ensure that all children benefit from learning and psychosocial support in creative ways across the school. The Foundation School is able to offer a holistic learning experience both through the adapted CAPS curriculum and vibrant cultural and sporting programmes for learners.

Submitted by Lien Potgieter