We’ve started the preparation week for the Maseno maths camp, and it’s off to a good start. It’s hard to do a whole lot of pre-planning of the curriculum before people actually arrive for a few reasons, especially as it’s hard to know what the volunteer participant list will look like before everyone’s here. This is partly to do with the maths themselves (different mathematicians are better for pitching different kinds of ideas to the students), and partly because the overall curriculum arises from a discussion process which is difficult to facilitate online. But we’re all here now, and we’ve got a pretty solid line-up plotted for next week. There’s a healthy amount of borrowing of content from last year’s math camp, but also a good range of ‘new’ material we’re looking forward to trying out.

Two big differences this year… First is the scale of the camp: we’re expecting somewhere between 100 and 150 students, up from the 28 we had last year. So a decent amount of this year’s camp will be about how things scale up. We’re expecting to do concurrent sessions, and will thus probably have multiple runs of each of the maths sessions.

Second is the extra volunteer help we’re getting. There’s a lot of new people involved this year. There are a number of new Kenyan volunteers, including four first-year undergraduates (who show a lot of promise), and an ‘intern’ who we expect to join the math department for a master’s degree in January. From the UK, we have two new school teachers and eight students! The upshot is that we have a much larger percentage of non-research-mathematician involvement, which will probably work better for the student’s sanity, as there will be more coordinators to put us in check and actually tell us about how normal people think about things. We’re also going to spend a good bit of time envisioning how best to integrate the UK students into the camp next week. We’ve got some good ideas, I think, especially the suggestion that they put on a short play about the lives of famous English and French mathematicians. (Most of the students are coming from a French school in the UK.)

The funniest moment of the day was talking about some of the evaluations from last year, especially those who said the camp had too much free time. Apparently Kenyan secondary school has solid planning of events from about 4:30am to 10pm. A few of those hours are reading periods, but still, it’s a crazy schedule by US/UK standards. Additionally, Kenyan students spend about 2.5 weeks at home with their families; the rest is spent in boarding school or taking extra classes at the boarding school in preparation for exams. That’s a lot of kid-management!

Ok, it’s somewhat after midnight, and I should probably get to bed…

Math, I think just like science, math is part of our life, if we noctie it or not. But just like science not many people can fully grasp it. Every time I picture the idea of math calculation, I remember the film, Beautiful Mind. mathematicians are a rare bread, I think, we are relying now in computers so much even for our math. How will that affect our future. Do you rely on new technlogoy to do your work, and even this technology taken away, will you stll be able to continue with your math life?

Well, I absolutely use new technologies (well, computers, if they’re considered new) in my research. We can see further with computers than we can by doing things by hand; the computer can be made to crunch out thousands of examples at a time where I usually only have the patience to do tens of examples on my own. Just as there’s no reason to chop down a tree with a rock when an ax is available, there’s not really a need to over-do calculations when computers are on hand. We focus on the creative side of mathematics instead of on the arithmetic, and get much further as a result. That said, I would certainly still be doing math if the computers disappeared one day, though! It’s a beautiful subject, after all.