Tools for Thinking

Number Sense


Every child deserves a WOW moment at school and the Number Sense programme provides opportunities for these.

At the heart of all mathematics is number. For children to be successful in mathematics they need to have a strong sense of number. What this essentially means is that the children are able to work fluently and flexibly with numbers and number concepts. It also means that the children have a rich understanding of the meaning of number (muchness). Furthermore it means that the children have a wide range of effective strategies for solving a large variety of word problems.

A strong sense of number is critical if children are to progress towards solving advanced word problems and acquiring mathematical understanding and computational skills.

The Number Sense programme was discovered at a workshop held for teachers and was consequently adopted by the school. It is now a programme that runs throughout the school from Grade R to Grade 7. The Number Sense programme is CAPS compliant.

Merchiston Foundation Phase adopted this programme 6 years ago and the Senior Primary Phase 3 years ago. We have steadily trained our teachers regarding this philosophy through numerous workshops given by Aarnout Brombacher himself. These workshops have included whole-school workshops, phase and grade workshops.

In Foundation Phase, we start off with two workbooks in Grade R. Grades 1 to 3 complete four books per year – one book per term. Each workbook has 48 pages – one page a day. In order to provide differentiation for the children in the class, it is envisaged that different children in the same class could be working on different booklets. The Senior Primary use two books over and above their selected maths programme.

In order for the children to gain optimal benefit from the workbook, it is critical that they are encouraged to reflect on the tasks that they complete. Teachers should ask questions such as:

Did you notice anything as you completed those activities?
What helped you to answer the question?
How is this actively similar to or different from the activities that you have already completed?
The workbooks have been developed to support the development of numeracy in the early years. It has been specifically designed to support teachers who work with small groups of children and who need activities that will keep the other children productively engaged in meaningful tasks.




The Junior Primary Phase, Grades RR to 3, has adopted the Time2Read reading and spelling programme. Time2Read is a South African programme developed by a teacher and speech therapist, and so it expertly meets the needs of our young students and our teachers. The boys have taken to the methodology with ease and we are seeing great progress in the development of their skills.

The Time2Read programme bases reading and spelling instruction on the sound and code nature of the writing system; wherever possible, words are broken down into their spelling patterns. This programme aims to achieve high levels of fluent and accurate word identification for early reading instruction.

In addition to this, Merchiston has adopted the Readers are Leaders programme, which is a computer-based reading and language programme. It is designed to dramatically improve reading speed, to teach reading with comprehension and to develop all aspects of language (such as grammar, vocabulary and spelling) while allowing students to work independently and at their own pace. The boys begin this programme during their Grade 2 year as part of their Computer Curriculum and lessons are set aside in each grade for the boys to work through the different levels.

Thinking Hats


In 2014, Merchiston embarked on a journey to grow and develop as a ‘Thinking School’. It forms part of our overall vision to ‘future proof’ the school by equipping our boys with as many tools as possible to develop and extend their thinking and learning skills.

These tools promote individual, critical thinking and problem solving. Learning also becomes more explicit, enabling the boys to gain a deeper understanding of concepts and promotes the use of different strategies to further develop their thinking. This type of learning encourages communication, both written and oral, as a lot of the learning is done through collaboration, where the boys engage with the academic work.

Our focus is upon developing a common thinking language in order to infuse the thinking skills into the curriculum. At present we are mainly using David Hyerle’s Thinking Maps and Edward de Bono’s Thinking Hats as our tools for learning. We are also working on developing a growth mindset at Merchiston, where the learning journey is more important than the result.