Our online classes and interviews are free. One thing less for the parents to worry about; one thing more for the children to smile about.” Steve Sherman of Living Maths, based in Cape Town, talking about the free maths resources available online during Covid-19. The resources are downloadable, globally.

Maths should be fun. That was what prompted Steve Sherman to start Living Maths– an educational non-profit.  Sherman- fondly referred to as Mr S by his students – has been operating LM for 25 years, from Cape Town. In addition to physical classes, which carry a fee, Sherman has always offered resources online, at no charge- puzzles, games, mind twisters and interviews. Since the inception of LM, he has also run free classes [sponsored by various entities] for young people from under resourced communities.

During Covid-19, everything is on the pause button. Physical classes are not possible. Schools are closed. Many of LM programmes are hosted at schools. With schools being closed, distance learning has been activated globally. [Note to reader: There is a difference between ‘distance learning’ and ‘home schooling’. Distance learning implies that learners are not physically at school- which they are not during the global lockdown. If your kids are at home and they are enrolled in a school which is supplying online resources, then they are involved in distance learning. There are elements of home schooling as parents step in to assist but distance learning differs from home schooling which is generally not linked to a physical school].

Privileged schools are well equipped to bring online learning to their students. Even when schools are able to provide online tuition and households have decent internet to enable downloads, that is one part of the equation. Parents who may be maths challenged are being called on to assist their offspring. They may have their own work to do and cannot spend hours with maths issues. All up, maths is likely to take a knock.  Mindful of the need to keep maths alive and the fact that so many children do not have access to maths tuition during lockdown, Sherman has made Living Maths – free.

Living Maths classes are online- free and available to anyone – anywhere in the world. Line up your time zones and you are good to go.

Steve Sherman – Mr S –talks about keeping maths fun and accessible during lockdown in Covid-19.

TheCapeRobyn: What is Living Maths offering, during the pandemic, for individuals and teachers?

Steve Sherman: We have compiled a resource document of about 35 pages, with activity ideas for parents, teachers and kids. It can be found on livingmaths.com. It is updated daily.

We share many additional resources on our Facebook page. This is for teachers, parents and students. 

We are running fun online classes and interviews with fascinating people. For instance, last week we interviewed two astronauts.

We have a special document for grade 12 students [final year students, for readers outside South Africa].

This is a time where the digital divide becomes overtly obvious.  Those with devices and access to the internet can participate in distance learning and take part in incredible activities.  Those without- fall behind.  This is something I worry about and I am joining people together to start looking for ways to resolve this issue.

TheCapeRobyn: Living Maths is being offered for free during Covid-19 lockdown? Do you have funding/sponsors to assist with your operational costs?

Steve Sherman: Sadly, we have no sponsors for our activities during lockdown.  We earn no income either as we are not teaching in the schools.  We are in the same boat as many small businesses out there.  Imagine how their children are feeling?  By offering some of my time, I am hoping to bring a little sunlight to many anxious children at home. I do think the online classes are a cathartic way to deal with the new normal. Our online classes and interviews are free. One thing less for the parents to worry about; one thing more for the children to smile about.

TheCapeRobyn: Living Maths offers classes to supplement maths at school- to enhance maths learning. It’s not a substitute for school. You don’t follow the maths curriculum or do you?

Steve Sherman: We compliment the school curriculum but we want to focus on enhancing problem solving, creativity and thinking skills.

TheCapeRobyn: Going forward – no one knows when a vaccine will be out on the market. Many people are saying that they want to keep kids out of school. They may opt to shift from distance learning to home schooling. Will you offer online courses which are tailored for a school curriculum?

Steve Sherman: We have been running free online classes for the past five weeks and will do so for a few more weeks.  We are testing the viability of running permanent online classes in addition to our physical classes. I am exploring the idea of starting a STEM focused online school – watch this space. [STEM: Science, technology, engineering and maths]. For now we will leave it up to the schools to find their way – we will watch and learn from the side-lines. No point in reinventing the bagel. Teaching as we have known it, is going to change. Today it is a virus outbreak but tomorrow it could be something else.  It’s time to re-examine how we teach, what we need to do to get everyone to participate equitably; how can we assess students online. Will the classroom of the future be your computer screen?

TheCapeRobyn: Living Maths has made a huge impact and contribution to maths education, over 25 years, reaching thousands of youngsters?

Steve Sherman: We teach in classrooms around the world and we have partnered with a few organisations to collaborate on spreading the joy of STEM to students everywhere. We have a sponsor that is now sponsoring us for the 11th year in a row for a project in Gugulethu. This is very rare in outreach circles.  A previous sponsor sponsored us for 10 years on a different project. I would like to think that if projects are done with integrity and professionalism and you combine that with a positive impact in a community, this goes a long way in creating meaningful partnerships. Outreach projects sadly are reliant upon sponsorship and this is a challenge to secure in the best of times.  I think that many companies are going to re-evaluate their financial positions after lockdown and my worry is that the poorest communities are going to lose out. 

TheCapeRobyn: Tell us about the Living Maths journey?

Steve Sherman: I finished studying a BSc at UCT and travelled overseas to do summer camps and realised that I wanted to work with kids.  I joined a group of university students that were travelling to underprivileged schools in Los Angeles doing science. I loved the reactions of the students. On my return to South Africa in 1994, I got involved in Living Maths .

Living Maths was started by two house masters at SACS [SACS is an acronym for a boys only school in Cape Town – The South African College Schools].  JG Cowper and Reece Donovan were engineering students at UCT and they were asked at SACS, to formulate brainteasers for a  young learner. Other learners wanted to join in. A class was subsequently started at St Cyprians [a girl’s school in Cape Town]. I joined when they were looking to expand and needed someone with a science background that could work with kids. After teaching for a few months, I advised that more was required to make it a fully-fledged programme. I bought the concept from them in 1995- officially on February 1, 1995.  So yes, Living Maths – as people now know it- started 25 years ago. It is not currently a franchise. We might look at franchising in the future but online will get priority. It is a proudly South African entity.

Image credit: Living Maths youngsters having fun at maths. Photo supplied.

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