I worked a couple summers at Camp Winnebago, near Augusta, Maine. (Founded 1919, long before the car was a thing!) One of the great things about Winnebago was that they had some thirty camp songs, one for every occasion, mostly written in the 40’s I think. The most sticky of the bunch was ‘Goodnight Winnebago,’ which the entire camp would sing every night before bed; it’s a kind of theme song for the camp. (And a good lullabye for getting a pack of kids ready to chill out for the night!)
We’ve been thinking for most of the last year that it would be great to have a theme for the maths camp. And after nothing happening on it for many months, I wrote a bunch of lyrics the last night of camp and performed it (with some predictable hiccups) at the closing ceremony and then again at the final assembly, before we sent all the students home.
Yesterday we managed to round up a bunch of undergrads in the Maseno music program and work the song up a bit more. The students were really creative and great to work with; I absolutely cannot imagine getting something like this together in just a day back in Toronto. Here’s the last recording of the day!
Maseno Maths Camp Song
I’ve been meaning to write a bit about how the math camp journal system eventually worked, so I suppose I’ll do so now! (You can see the finished product here, here, here, and
here.) I tried a couple things, but mainly relied on ImageMagick and the Python xmlrpc library written by Max Cutler. In fact, a very nice moment mid-week involved shooting emails back and forth at 3am (Kenya time) with Max trying to figure out what was going wrong on my end. (You’re not really developing until you’re talking to the people who wrote your libraries, I always say!) In any case, Max was very helpful, as was his library.
So. The system ran as follows:
- The students wrote journal entries describing their math camp experience each day.
- At morning assembly, one of the coordinators, usually Jeff, would photograph all of the journal entries that were handed in.
- I would then run an ImageMagick script, which would automatically crop, resize and adjust the color levels on the pictures of the journal entries.
- We would rename each file (like IMG-000412.JPG) to include the student’s name (like Tom_Denton.jpg), with underscores between the parts of the name. Also, I would _try_ to rotate each image to upright, but my image-viewing programs seem to handle rotations in funny ways. (Thus, some of the journal entries are sideways on the blog. Urg,) More on that below.
- A short python script would then do the rest of the work. Each picture was uploaded automatically (using xmlrpc) to the WordPress site, and the script would then generate a bunch of html to form the body of the post.
I did mean to post a few more times in the week about how the camp was going, but somehow just didn’t find the time… On Tuesday and Thursday both I taught six sessions (and had a nice scratchy throat by the end of the day), and had done quite a lot of tech-type work, which I’ll be writing a later post on. The output of the automatic journal-upload system can be seen here; I thought it ended up being a good demonstration of the Power of Linux (and Python)!
And now for a number of unordered notes:
We went for a beautiful, relaxing day in Kakamega Forest on Saturday night/ Sunday morning, and then came back to Maseno to meet the students as they arrived. In the end about 140 have enrolled (so far), putting us at about five times the size of last year’s camp. There are a few familiar faces from those 28, but the individual contact with the students has (so far) been a bit more sparse due to the increased size. However, it’s early in the week, and we’re making a number of adjustments which might help a great deal in creating more personalized interactions.
One of the main things we’ve done is break the camp up into four ‘houses,’ named for the mathematicians Pascal, Fermat, Nash, and Turing. We have some sessionsin which all the students attend, and others in which we’ve split the camp in two. For example, tomorrow I’m running or helping to run a 1.5 hour class on what math research is like; it’s an activity-based session, so it’s broken into two groups and will run twice during the day, concurrent with other activity-based sessions which benefit from smaller (ie, reasonable) class size.
Super tired after another long day; having some troubles with my house, but the camp’s been great… off to sleep now!
Oh, what a crazy week! So much we’ve done, so much to do.
Technology has been very up and down. On Tuesday I was banging my head against Windows (always a favorite activity) trying to get software for the camp installed. We’re using maybe six pieces of educational math software, in a lab with about 40 computers. About half the machines were playing nice, and half were refusing to take certain parts of the software group. So on Wednesday, I learned to use an awesome utility called CloneZilla: it allows you to clone one computer onto another, which is perfect in a lab situation where all of the computer hardware is the same. It’s basically a linux distro that lives on a usb key; it takes an image of the computer (in our case, a mostly fresh windows install + math software, this image was about 4.5gb) on another usb key. We can then replicate the image on another machine; the clone takes about 10-12 minutes to install. This is a LOT faster than reinstalling windows and all of the math software on the uncooperative machines! It also means that if any of the machines get borked over the course of the week that it will be an easy process to reset them to a sane state.
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.