African Maths Initiative

Sharing Initiatives in Maths Education

Global Maths Circles

Maths, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty even to young learners.

Maths, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty even to young learners.

Who says that Maths ought to be a non-exciting affair that students shy away from? Who says that students should react with a joyful face when a maths lesson is over and exclaim let’s go have fun now?

The last week of October was pretty exciting for some of our team members who have been at a Global Math Circle training at Strathmore University led by Masaké LY from Global Math Circle in partnership with African Maths Initiative and Strathmore Institute of Mathematical Sciences (SIMS) . The training was on how to come up with mathematical problems, establish and facilitate a math circle which is a group of six to ten participants meeting along with a facilitator for an hour in or out of class.

Math circles first appeared in Russia during the 1930s; they have existed in Bulgaria since sometime before 1907. The tradition arrived in the U.S. with immigrants who had received their inspiration from math circles as teenagers (source, Wikipedia). Maths circles have features such as being composed of students who want to be there - who either like math, or want to like math, and that they give students a social context in which to enjoy mathematics.

In our case, we have been implementing out-of-class  extra-curricular maths club activities with high school students for a couple of years while focusing on different thematic areas  some of which focus a lot on logical thinking, critical thinking and collaboration with the aim of helping students develop a positive attitude towards maths and therefore, this training came in handy!

Attendants of this training included pre-school, primary and secondary teachers, educators, and math lecturers from different institutions such as Mawewa Primary School, Kianda School, St Mary’s Nairobi, Makini School, Chelezo Secondary School, Consolata School, St Mary’s Viwandani and St Michael’s Secondary School. 

Afternoon sessions involved having maths circles with 4-17-year-old students. On the first day, there were 50 students and the number almost doubled by the fourth day. Brightened up faces were running up and down the hallways into the lecture halls to attend the sessions. The engagement, the willingness to learn and explore different topics by the students was simply encouraging.

Global Math Circle group photo.

Global Math Circle group photo.

There were insights on how to think deeply about simple mathematical problems, for example, everybody or rather a typical grade 5 student would be knowing how to find the area of a trapezium or a circle but that would be it! but what does that mean? How do you justify the formula of a trapezium?

Teachers, educators, and lecturers were challenged to embrace the fear of the unknown and let the students' brains wander because that’s what maths circles are all about. It’s about the leader/facilitator posing challenges; some of which look simple yet are complex and lets the students challenge themselves even if that means the students exceeding their grasp. The students come up with examples, counter-examples, insights, and proofs through conversations with peers whilst the facilitator is recording them. The learners know that their examples matter and none of them is right or wrong, it’s just that one example leads to the next and the exciting bit is that no one knows (including the teacher where this conversation will head to)

This mode of learning lets the facilitator explore deep mathematical ideas and theories in a way that deviates away from rote learning where the teacher is the sole provider of all answers. Here, learners get to discover, think deeply, be creative, boost self-esteem, as well as collaborate.

By the end of the training, it was exciting to hear teachers who attended the activity indicate that they are looking forward to establishing Math circles within their neighborhoods and schools. We might be sparking up the next generation of mathematicians and problem solvers, who knows? Only time will tell, as at now let’s challenge ourselves, explore more problems and recognize that a spark becomes a flame if the right conditions happen and for the right conditions to happen, a team of passionate teachers and educators will be needed to inspire more students to join math circles and enjoy the beauty of maths!

Written by Patrick Njoroge




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