Time Travel event at the Maseno Maths Camp, Kenya

Since 2011, Maseno University in Kenya is hosting a yearly maths camp organised by the Kenyan NGO African Mathematics Initiative (AMI). The maths camps give students between 12 and 19 the opportunity to learn mathematics in a different way, inspiring them to develop a positive attitude to the subject. The cooperation between Maseno University and Linnaeus University, Sweden, made it possible that for the first time, a Time Travel event was integrated in the maths camp activities.

Maseno School, not only sits right on the equator, but is also the oldest formal school in Kenya, established in 1906. British mathematician Edward Carey Francis came to Kenya and became the headmaster of the school in 1928. On his arrival, he was of the opinion that advanced education and mathematics should not be accessible to Kenyans, but later changed his mind.

On 19th August 2015, the 75 participants and facilitators of the Maseno Maths Camp (international and local university students and lecturers, maths teachers, educators and high school students), together with the team from Linnaeus University, Sweden, travelled back in time to the arrival of Carey Francis in January 1928. The Time Travel was set during the preparation of his welcoming, involving students and teachers of Maseno school as well as the local community. He will need a new office building, located just on the equator. The classrooms have to be refurbished with new floors. The villagers are keen to show the local culture by presenting Luo and Luhya dances and drum rhythms. Everybody wants to impress Carey Francis by demonstrating that they are capable of solving complex mathematical tasks.

The Time Travel included characters that provided clues for solving logical challenges: a local shop-owner, a salesman, carpenter, farmer, tailor, explorers and the local chief. How to find the equator? How should the classroom floors be designed using geometric patterns? How to write down complex drumming rhythms? All of these activities required the participants to be innovative and creative, and challenged them mathematically as they had to solve problems they never encountered before.

The Time Travel event constructively integrated history as a teaching tool for mathematical critical thinking. The activities required logical abstraction, creativity, and the ability to identify the most adequate scientific approach, which can be difficult especially when different sources provide contradicting information. The historical setting allowed the participants to explore the historical importance of the place, and moreover gave them new insights into how and where mathematics can be applied.

Maxwell Fundi, Kenyan volunteer at the Maseno Maths Camp, reflected the feeling of many participants when we said “this was an amazing experience... it really felt like 1928“.

Franca Hoffmann