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Sunday, April 5, 2020
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Spreading the joy of STEM

Steve Sherman

It is abundantly clear that the world around us is changing at a rapid pace.  Technology is advancing exponentially and the tools that we use, namely computers, cell phones and cars are evolving and new models and designs are released quicker than ever before.

Students today need to be mathematically and scientifically literate and be able to solve problems in creative ways. Living Maths promotes Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (known as STEM subjects) support to about 4500 students a week in Cape Town, South Africa and around the world over the internet.

People say that mathematics is not their favourite subject. In terms of music, just because you don’t enjoy hiphop music or Yodelling does not mean that you stop liking music altogether.  In the same way, just because you don’t like doing sums, you cannot say you don’t like maths – you can only say that you don’t like that part of maths. There are many other parts and this is what we enjoy revealing to students.

We need to think outside the box to win people over and one of those ideas is our annual Living Maths Space Tour. To show the glamorous side of STEM by showing the possibilities, Living Maths took them to a few cities for public talks and school visits.

Last year, I hosted former NASA Astronaut, Dr Don Thomas, a veteran of 4 shuttle missions and an extraordinary speaker.  I have worked with Don for about 10 years and he is unbelievable with kids and he has a knack for inspiring young people.  We spent a few days in Cape Town then we moved up to Johannesburg and then finally ended our tour in Durban.  During this time we received incredible coverage on all the major radio stations, TV shows, newspapers and social media.  We hosted seven public talks in two weeks, which were all full and we had about 10 school visits in total. Students got to hear and meet Dr Thomas! We were able to reach over 2 million people if you take the media and school visits into account.

Dr Thomas’s story

Dr Thomas’s story resonates with so many people. After his father left when he was nine years old, his mother single handedly raised four children and they often went without meals but most of the time they had to rely on government subsidies. He had decided at a young age that he wanted to become an astronaut after watching the first US astronaut orbit around Earth.

After being turned down four times, building extra skill sets to improve his chances and investing many hours into training, he was finally contacted by NASA and offered the job. He only flew his first mission at the age of 39. He made it abundantly clear that despite orbiting the Earth almost 700 times, meeting his great hero, Neil Armstrong and going on four Shuttle missions to Space, the journey was difficult but quitting was not an option.

Many students bemoan the fact that they find the STEM subjects tough.  If everything we did was easy and there were no challenges, we would never celebrate the victories.  Climbing out of your comfort zone allows you to grow as a person!

We were flooded with many emails and tributes to thank us for bringing Dr Thomas to the country

A letter from a parent of an 8-year-old

Hi Steve,

Thank you for arranging the visit and talks by Dr Don Thomas. He has clearly inspired many, many children during his time here.

We were at the one at Bergvliet High and both my daughters (Ellen & Iris) currently want to become astronauts. Iris, who is eight, came home and wrote her plan for getting into space. She has also done her homework every day since then which is completely out of character for her. I am hoping that this lasts for a little while at least.

Space Tour 2018 allowed us to travel up a different part of South Africa, with stops in 8 towns and 8 public talks, we physically reached over 15,000 people and through media we managed to reach a couple of million people.  We will certainly be looking to take space tour to other countries.  Would India be interested?

So the next time you think about Maths and Science – don’t think of them as obstacles – think of them as opportunities and to quote Dr Suess, Oh the places you’ll go!

Here are two problems to feed the brain:


What do these continents have in common?








Arrange the numerals “123456789” to form a 9-digit number (referred to as “ABCDEFGHI”) whose 2-digit subsets meet the following criteria:

1) AB is divisible by 2

2) BC is divisible by 3

3) CD is divisible by 4

4) DE is divisible by 5

5) EF is divisible by 6

6) FG is divisible by 7

7) GH is divisible by 8

8) HI is divisible by 9



They all start with the same letter that they end with.


There are two solutions.

781254963 and 187254963

Steve Sherman

Chief Imagination Officer and Executive Daydreamer, Living Maths

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