When we arrived in South Peninsula High School, one of the first things we did was to draw up a list of what we had done so far. As this was our fourth school, we felt that this would highlight what we had already covered, and reveal areas that we needed to focus on. When we made a list of the actual classes our Rich Tasks and observations had taken place in, we realised that a bias towards subjects like English, and we decided to try to redress this imbalance. One of the areas we had so far missed out was maths. We had avoided maths, because we had difficulty imagining how to construct a Rich Task in this field. We knew that it was possible, as we saw on our visit to Hawick in November, where Martyn Call had done some interesting work with his students, but none of us were sure where to begin. Part of the problem was that none of us were terribly confident in our mathematical abilities. Because of this, we decided to ask if we could work with a Maths Literacy class rather than tackling a more academic one.
Maths Literacy is a programme which teaches students the maths they need to survive in the world, things like balancing a budget, understanding the compound interest that comes with a bank loan, and so on. These are useful skills, which those who do not go down the route of entering a rofession allied to the subject are far more likely to use than, for example, the Inverse Sine Law! That said, however, it is far more basic than Maths courses in other countries we have visited. According to people we spoke to in the school, there is a country wide problem whereby students fear maths, and so the Maths Literacy course is a popular alternative to the full Maths course, and in some schools is the only one they run. We were told that this fear is caused by poor quality Maths teaching at primary school, and so is deeply ingrained in the students by the time they reach high school.
On deciding that we wanted to do some work in the subject, we spoke to the Maths Literacy teacher, Ms Berenice Jardine, and she felt that the best option was her Year 11 class, who were about to start a unit on probabilities. She felt that having us introduce a subject to the students, allowing her to build on what we’d done in future classes, would be best, as there wouldn’t be the danger of us repeating work already done, and she would be able to fill in any gaps we left. Initially we were going to take the class for a double period, but the day had to be changed due to a scheduling clash, so we moved to a single period later in the week.

We had a long group discussion on the best way to tackle probability as a Rich Task, and decided that the best way would be to focus on the students own lives, and work out probabilities based on themselves. We thought that this would make it relevant, as it dealt with things they knew, rather than an abstract idea. We came up with several scenarios, and then put them together in a lesson plan. We decided to use a number of different ways to look at it, and put them in order of complexity, starting with a simple yes/no answer, then breaking the answer down further, or having multiple possibilities. We then had the students work in groups to answer questions on a worksheet, and would have gone on to the final task, which was getting them to draw a shape from a choice of five, but we ran out of time.

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The reason for using several different methods for working out probabilities was that we wanted to give the students several different strategies for working it out. This worked up to a point. When we were going through the answers to the worksheet, it became obvious that at least one group had just guessed the answers, and in fact they said several times when we asked them how they came to answer a question that they had guessed. This may have been partly messing around, because sometimes that is just what teenagers do, but it may also have been down to the questions being too complicated. One or two of the examples were difficult to work out, and as it was an introductory lesson, it could have been pitched too high. One of the biggest difficulties in writing a lesson like this is working how easy or difficult to make the questions. As the subject does not exist in any of the schools we’ve known, whether at home or in the Learning School, we did not know much about it or the level of ‘literacy’ to which the students would have advanced by Year 11. One suspects that the first three examples were too easy, and the question sheet too advanced. If running this lesson again, perhaps it would be better to make it a two lesson class rather than a single period (which was, in fact, the original plan), and to spend some time discussing how to work out the type of questions posed by the worksheet before giving it to them. The teacher asked if she could keep copies of the worksheet, and may use them in future classes, but introduce them later in the unit rather than at the beginning.

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It is probably also the case that the class would have been better suited to a younger group of students, but they seemed to enjoy it well enough. The students were very welcoming to us, were not shy about answering questions, and were quick to laugh and to joke with us. It was quite a noisy class, but they did pay attention, although they did occasionally try to get us to write silly things up on the board (in the hospital example, we didn’t know how to spell the names so they spelled them out to us, and are pretty sure there is no hospital in Cape Town called ‘eggshell’). We found out some interesting things about the class, such as that the probability of a student being an only child is only 1/24, surely not a statistic you would find in many classrooms in the Global Classroom!

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The class was great fun to run, and we were met with great enthusiasm and humour, and we’d like to thank Ms Jardine and the Year 11 Maths Literacy class for being so welcoming to us.