Science competition: Pupils create math tool for disabled colleagues

Monday, September 2nd, 2019 00:00 |
Esther Kamau and Francis Njooroge display their award for Efra, a mathematic tool for visually and hearing impaired students. Photo/PD/Wambui Virginia

A crowd of students stood at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre entrance hall in a celebratory mood. The Young Scientist Kenya (YSK) competition has just come to a close. 

The event brought together students from schools in different counties to showcase their brilliant ideas and innovations in technology, biological and ecological sciences, social and behavioural sciences and chemical, physical and mathematical sciences.

Among these students are a boy and girl from St Francis Secondary School in Njoro; their innovation was declared a winner in one of the categories.

Francis Njoroge and Esther Kamau, both in form four, are the winners in the Innovative Project in Education Technology category. Their innovation, Efra (coined from their first names), is a mathematical tool that will aid the deaf and visually impaired students in solving trigonometry. 

Trigonometry is a branch of mathematics dealing with relations of sides and angles of triangles. The main functions used in Trigonometry are sine, cosine and tangent, which are ratios of sides of a right-angled triangle.

Due to disability, the deaf and visually impaired students experience communication challenges and some of their needs are not accommodated in educational programmes, calling for thoughtful and unique approaches to ensure children with these disabilities have the opportunity to reach their full potential. 

“We felt there was a gap we needed to bridge for students with visual and hearing impairments. Trigonometry, as much as it’s a complex topic, is a crucial topic as it is used in surveying, mapping, astronomy and artillery, for instance in getting height of buildings or towers,” Njoroge says.

As much as the tool only solves one area in mathematics, it would also help in the practical and applicability concept of mathematics. “These are areas in life where a student could be interested in pursuing.  Basically we wanted to improve on the theory and make the topic more practical. So, my colleague and I used what we were taught to make learning trigonometry easier for these students. That’s how Efra was born,” he adds. 

How it works

The Efra tool is in shape of a circle, which is divided into four quadrants by the Y and X-axis.  It works by flickering a blinking light for the deaf and alerting alarm for the blind. This will help students know they are working out the sums well. If the device is not properly installed or aligned, then it will not make any sound or show any indication, meaning something is wrong. 

The Efra tool operates from the centre of the circle, called the Cartesian coordinate, which is (0,0). At this point, a pendulum (thread with a ball) is attached and placed at any angle, could be 60 or 90 degrees, then the thread will be on the adjacent, allowing the student to calculate the relevant angles. 

“For instance, if a visually impaired student wants to find the cosine of angle 60, they pick the pendulum and hang it at that angle and let the string drop directly on the X-axis, where there is also a scale ranging from 0.1 etc. If you place the thread at 60 degrees, the cosine is 0.88 and the cosine of angle 60 is 0.9 on a scientific calculator,” says Njoroge. 

While the device fairly works just as the calculator, the two students are refining it to offer the best results. They would like to be assisted and guided by interested stakeholders to finesse and digitise the Efra tool as the target market is special needs school, their teachers and students. 

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