A Retired Math Teacher Helps Students Learn Geometry Through Quilting

Some real talk from retired geom­e­try teacher Wendy Licht­man, above, the author of sev­er­al math-themed YA nov­els:

Not many 15-year-olds care that two par­al­lel lines are crossed by a trans­ver­sal.

“But right here are two par­al­lel lines,” she con­tin­ues, point­ing to a pink and orange quilt. “and these are trans­ver­sals, and they are at a 90º angle and it feels real. You’ve got­ta get it to look right.”

The teenaged par­tic­i­pants in the Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia pro­gram she found­ed to demys­ti­fy geom­e­try through hands-on quilt­mak­ing get it to look right by plot­ting their designs on graph paper, care­ful­ly mea­sur­ing and cut­ting shapes from bright cal­i­co of their own choos­ing. (Lic­th­man has com­mit­ted to but­ton­ing her lip if their favored print is not to her taste.)

Licht­man came up with this cre­ative approach to help a bright stu­dent who was in dan­ger of not grad­u­at­ing, hav­ing flunked geom­e­try three times.

She details their jour­ney in How to Make a Geo­met­ric Quilt, an essay for­mat­ted as step-by-step instructions…not for quilt­mak­ing but rather how those in the teach­ing pro­fes­sion can lead with humil­i­ty and deter­mi­na­tion, while main­tain­ing good bound­aries.

Some high­lights:

6. Some­time after the sewing has begun, and the math note­book is ignored for weeks, begin to wor­ry that your stu­dent is not real­ly learn­ing geom­e­try.  She’s learn­ing sewing and she’s learn­ing to fix a bro­ken bob­bin, but real­ly, geom­e­try?

7. Remind your­self that this kid needs a quilt as much as she needs geom­e­try.

8. Remem­ber, also, the very, very old woman who taught you hat-mak­ing one night long ago.  She had gone to school only through 5th grade because, she said, she was a Black child in the deep south and that’s how it was back then.  Think about how she explained to the hat-mak­ing class that to fig­ure out the length of the hat’s brim, you need­ed to mea­sure from the cen­ter to the edge with a string and then do “three of those and a lit­tle bit more,” and remem­ber how you sat in awe, because three radii and a lit­tle bit more is the def­i­n­i­tion of pi, and this hat-mak­er had evi­dent­ly dis­cov­ered for her­self the for­mu­la for cir­cum­fer­ence.

As the two become bet­ter acquaint­ed, the stu­dent let her guard down, reveal­ing more about her sit­u­a­tion while they swapped sto­ries of their moth­ers.

But this was no easy A.

In addi­tion to expect­ing reg­u­lar, punc­tu­al atten­dance, Lict­man stip­u­lat­ed that in order to pass, the stu­dent could not give the fruits of her labor away.

(Sol­id advice for cre­ators of any craft project this ambi­tious. As Deb­bie Stoller, author of Stitch ‘n Bitch: The Knit­ter’s Hand­book coun­sels:

…those who have nev­er knit some­thing have no idea how much time it took. If you give some­one a sweater, they may think that you made that in an evening when you were watch­ing a half-hour sit­com. It’s only when peo­ple actu­al­ly attempt to knit that they final­ly get this real­iza­tion, this light bulb goes on over their heads, and they real­ize that, “Wow, this actu­al­ly takes some skill and some time. I’ve got new­found respect for my grand­ma.”)

Ulti­mate­ly, Licht­man con­cludes that the five cred­its she award­ed her stu­dent could not be reduced to some­thing as sim­ple as geom­e­try or quilt-mak­ing;

You are giv­ing her cred­it for some­thing less tan­gi­ble.  Some­thing like pride.  Five cred­it hours for feel­ing she can accom­plish some­thing hard that, okay, is slight­ly relat­ed to geom­e­try.

Exam­ples of the cur­rent cohort’s work can be seen on Rock Paper Scis­sors Col­lec­tive’s Insta­gram.

Once com­plet­ed, these quilts will be donat­ed to Bay Area fos­ter chil­dren and pedi­atric patients at the local Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal.

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Solar Sys­tem Quilt: In 1876, a Teacher Cre­ates a Hand­craft­ed Quilt to Use as a Teach­ing Aid in Her Astron­o­my Class

17-Year-Old Ade­line Har­ris Cre­at­ed a Quilt Col­lect­ing 360 Sig­na­tures of the Most Famous Peo­ple of the 19th Cen­tu­ry: Lin­coln, Dick­ens, Emer­son & More (1863)

Bisa Butler’s Beau­ti­ful Quilt­ed Por­traits of Fred­er­ick Dou­glass, Nina Simone, Jean-Michel Basquiat & More

Via Boing Boing

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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  • Lois Brown says:

    I think it is won­der­ful to use a real world expe­ri­ence to exam­ine
    Math. My uncle would tutor stu­dents and use a foot­ball field as an exam­ple for young men when teach­ing per­cent­ages and many oth­er con­cepts. When we use real world exam­ples math jumps off the pages and becomes use­ful. This teacher used some­thing real to final­ly get the con­cepts into this girl’s world and see how use­ful it can be. Great job!

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