“Mathematics is all around us, it is in the numbers we use, it’s in the patterns our mothers use in weaving it’s in the architecture of our homes, it’s in the symbolism that we use for divination and healing, so a child growing up wherever they are growing up has a natural exposure to mathematics but they may not know that what they are seeing is mathematical until you show them how it relates to the abstract concepts”
Prof. Nkechi Madonna Agwu
I wish I had a math teacher like Professor Agwu when I was growing up! In this very inspiring episode of A Correction I spoke to Professor Nkechi Madonna Agwu, a mathematician who does amazing work teaching mathematics informed by indigenous methods. We discuss how she grew up seeing mathematics all around her and how her experience of civil war and growing up in 3 refugee camps taught her essential mathematical skills. She also emphasises the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics role models for girls.
Professor Agwu speaks about how she uses Ndebe dolls inspired by the inherently mathematical Ndebe tribe in Africa to teach mathematics, computer science and robotics, by combining history, culture, art, storytelling, geography, entrepreneurship, commerce, environmental protection and recycling. She also uses the African Okwe or Mancala game, the oldest known game in the world, which is similar to Chess, to teach mathematical concepts, such as symmetry, graph theory, geometry etc. These teaching methods are basically free, created by being resourceful and using materials around us.
She explains how learning mathematics in indigenous languages supports mathematical learning, how teaching intergenerationally and multiculturally improves education and society at large and explains how even though teaching face-to-face cannot be replaced by technology, technology can be used to strengthen mathematical learning.
Professor Nkechi Madonna Agwu has taught mathematics for over 30 years in Nigeria and the United States. She is a Professor at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), City University of New York (CUNY). She is a generalist, in that her research, teaching, and scholarship intersects with the sciences, arts, social sciences, and humanities. She is a recipient of a Carnegie Africa Diaspora Fellowship, and the Founder of CHI STEM TOYS Foundation, an NGO geared towards facilitating STEM and entrepreneurship education among under-represented groups of people, particularly girls and women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), and in rural and vulnerable communities in Africa.