Cell phone-based maths competition subtracts Mxit, adds Android

BY NICKY WILLEMSE - OCTOBER 28, 2016

This week, on Wednesday, marked the end of a landmark Mxit-based maths competition – which has run nationally, provincially and citywide since 2013 – and the launch of a brand new android-based maths competition, which will kick off in 2017.

The TouchTutorTM Maths Competition, sponsored by the Capitec Foundation, was developed to “popularise” maths among tech-savvy learners – and its developers, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Unit (GMMDU), are determined to keep it fresh by shifting to the latest cell phone technology.

Next year’s competition will run on a new app, available free from the App Store. The app gives access to assigned tests for competition purposes, along with other downloadable tests, which can be used for curriculum support by learners anywhere in the country.

“It’s so important to recognise, support and flag talent among the youth – and this is an innovative way to stimulate interest,” said GMMDU head Prof Werner Olivier.

The announcement of the new competition format took place on Wednesday (26 October), at the prizegiving for this year’s Grade 9 and 11 competition winners. Ironically, the top spots in each went to learners in the grade below – Alexander Road High Grade 8 learner Brandon le Roux, 14, and Pearson High Grade 10 learner Kianna Peterson, 16.

Neither had studied the Grade 9 or 11 maths syllabus before attempting the curriculum-aligned maths tests. “I just get maths,” said Le Roux, who is interested in pursuing an accounting career. “I’ve entered many other maths competitions … Maths comes easily to me.”

Peterson, 16, who is planning to study actuarial sciences, said her win was a surprise, “not knowing Grade 11 work”. “I just looked at the different equations and figured it out.”

The school with the highest number of participants was Get Ahead College in Queenstown.

GMMDU’s Dr Philip Collett, who heads up the mobile maths competition, said: “We want to see it grow – we have big plans for it.”

The mobile competition is just one of the high-tech resources that have been developed by GMMDU. They also have a curriculum-aligned teaching and learning model for maths and science, called TouchTutorTM, which is available on tablets for selected Grade 10 to 12 learners, and laptops for teachers. And they have a desktop model, which is placed in schools to form resource labs.

 

Congratulating the cellphone-based TouchTutorTM Maths Competition winners Brandon le Roux, 14, from Alexander Road High and Kianna Peterson, 16, from Pearson, are (from left) Capitec Foundation’s Neptal Khoza and Nicky Mbelebele, and Prof Werner Oliver, head of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Unit. 

The maths competition – and the other tests that will be available through the new app – is part of their focus on “mobile assessment and support”. The tests will have automated feedback on scores and solutions.

“We would love to get this app to thousands of learners in far-flung places, who can then use their phones to revise maths,” said Collett.

Downloadable and assigned tests, which will be available online or offline on the new app, can also be used for in-school, local, district, provincial and national competitions. “The Capitec Foundation will continue to sponsor this project – and may also introduce some financial literacy competitions, linked to maths.”

The new app will have language support in six indigenous languages, and will be available from Grades 8 to 12.

The app can also be extended to other subjects, provided the right partners are found.

Capitec Foundation’s Neptal Khoza said: “We believe maths is the one thing we need to solve the challenges of the country … When you’ve done maths, it makes things much easier. You’re able to reason … You’re able to engage as a society and come up with a solution.”

He said levels of numeracy and critical thinking had deteriorated among school-leavers – with many learners being discouraged from taking maths.

“There’s no silver bullet to fix education [in South Africa] but there’s no excuse for us not to do what we can.”

The other Grade 9 winners in this year’s mobile maths competition, all from Pearson, were Bianca Gouws (second), Peter Mehrtens (third) and Paige-Louise Katz (fourth). The other Grade 11 winners, also from Pearson, were Abby Sieberhagen (second) and Tyler van Huyssteen (third). All the winners received money vouchers for Capitec bank accounts.

Main image: Alexander Road High’s Brandon le Roux, 14, and Pearson High’s Kianna Peterson, 16, won this year’s cellphone-based TouchTutorTM Maths Competition for Grade 9 and 11. Maths comes naturally to the two winners, who are actually in Grade 8 and Grade 10 respectively. Both have entered, and won, multiple maths competitions.