Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Whole Schools Institute: Knit It, Solve It!

Several of the math problems for the workshop involved measuring this log-cabin blanket.  We calculated its area, perimeter, estimated number of stitches, cost, estimated time to knit, and yardage.  Can you believe that there are about 1.3 miles of yarn in this blanket?  Incredible!  Students always ask me how long it takes to make something I've shown them or how many stitches there are in a piece.  With a few basic math skills, students can calculate the answers themselves. 

Any good teacher knows the importance of being both well prepared for a lesson and leaving room for flexibility.  For Knit It, Solve It! (developed and facilitated for the Mississippi Arts Commission’s Whole Schools Institute), I created all of my handouts from scratch, gathered links from the Internet, determined their usefulness, collected books, and researched what others have done when teaching children and/or teens to knit. It took some time, but I hope to use pieces of the workshop again in other settings.

This area showcased my almost completed "mathghan" and the materials needed for a lesson using triangular numbers and geometric transformations such as reflection, rotation, and symmetry.  I prepared poster-board squares made from two triangles in contrasting colors so that students could create their own designs and transfer them to graph paper with crayons to make a pattern. 

This was my display table for knitting books and handouts for classroom use with children and teens.  I used my first log-cabin blanket as the table cloth.  Most of these books are listed in my Amazon shop linked on the right side-bar of this blog.

While I didn’t have to dye my yarn for the knitting kits, I wanted to share the possibilities of Kool-Aid dyeing for classroom use and make the yarn more colorful.  This was the color of the yarn before dyeing.  Photos of the dyed yarn are on an earlier post.

In designing the content and flow the workshop, I tried to make sure that I had enough time to teach 20 people how to do the basic knit stitch and leave enough time for them to solve hands-on knitting and math problems within the confines of a two hour workshop.  In the end, I wasn’t able to set up my classroom the way I had envisioned it or break into small groups, and I had some technology hurdles to overcome.  Flexibility is always a virtue in a classroom setting!

Even though it was the last workshop of three, very full days and I had the 3:30 - 5:30 slot, I thought the workshop went well given its constraints.  I limited the workshop to 20 participants and requested that participants have a little experience with knitting, but I also allowed beginners to register.  Only 2 of the workshop participants had ever knitted before; most of the participants were beginners. 

My friend and co-presenter for the Fibonacci Folding Book Project (more here and here), Sarah Campbell, took some photos of the workshop in progress which you can view on her blog here.  Thank goodness she was able to pop in when she finished packing up from her workshops.  Besides the photo documentation, she was able to help individual students with their beginning attempts at the knit stitch.  Her extra set of hands and eyes and knitting expertise were invaluable.  The experience underscored for me again that a low teacher to student ratio is essential-- even with the capability of projecting knitting videos for people to see. 

With 16 beginning knitters, I think my methodology of creating the knitting kits (or training wheels), giving some initial instruction about how to hold the needles, and projecting two different video tutorials for the basic knit stitch worked well.  Some of the students caught on more quickly than others, and almost every student needed a little one-on-one time with an instructor.   Mistakes were made, discussed, and corrected, but I think all of the students left with enough practice and resources to continue after only about 40 minutes of instruction. Yeah! 

This is an example of a knitting kit.  I cast-on and knitted several rows so that students in the workshop only had to try the basic knit stitch.  I organized the kits into Ziploc bags so that they wouldn't get tangled up and so that participants could carry them away after the workshop.  These kits are "training wheels" for learning to knit. 

I prepared a table with some of my knitting samples and essential knitting tools.  I brought examples of yarns not to use with beginning knitters.  Using the right materials (preferably worsted weight wool yarn on wooden or bamboo needles) yields higher success rates for beginning knitters. 

One teacher who plans to try some knitting for her math classroom asked how she should respond to parents and or administrators who question why students are learning how to knit at school or how much time it may take away from “instruction.”  My response:  it will take time to teach a classroom of students how to knit.  In my opinion, however, this is not lost instruction time.  It takes time to teach anything in a classroom-- even with simple pencil and paper.  Through learning to knit, students may gain a lot of other skills beyond math.  Through knitting, students can develop concentration, focus, persistence, learning from and problem solving through mistakes, relaxation, mentoring skills, small-scale bodily/kinesthetic intelligence, joy, pride, and contextual connections to history, social studies, science, and language arts.  Lost instructional time?  I don't think so. 

To be fair to this evaluation, however, I may be able to envision using knitting in a classroom because I have been knitting for a long time and I have experience teaching people how to knit.  Teaching knitting is a skill in itself, and I have learned through trial and error (and I'm still learning) what works and doesn’t work.  I can imagine that it might be difficult for a beginning knitter to feel confident, but if you can make a slip knot, cast -on, knit garter stitch, bind-off, and weave in ends, you can teach measurement and number sense (I gather from some of the math teachers in the workshop that measurement is one of the most difficult objectives to teach in the classroom).  If you can increase and decrease, you can explore geometric concepts.

If you want to try-out knitting with your students but you don't feel confident enough about your skills, invite other knitters into your classroom.  This is a great opportunity to include community members, parents, grandparents, or others.  If you start a program in your classroom and decide to do it again the next year, you will have some knitting teachers within your school-- your own former students!

I would like to thank the Mississippi Arts Commission for allowing me to develop and facilitate this workshop, Sarah Campbell for showing up right when I needed her most, the teachers who gave this workshop a chance when we were all feeling a little tired at the end of the day, and my knitting students who have taught me so much along the way.

Comments?  Questions?  Suggestions?  Concerns?  If you use knitting in a classroom setting to teach core curriculum areas, please share your experiences.  The hand-outs for the workshop are gathered together in the upper right hand corner of the blog. 

P.S.  It is very funny to me how much math has crept into my life both through the Fibonacci Folding Book Project and this Knit It, Solve It! workshop.  You might never suspect that math was my least favorite subject in school.  You never know where life will lead you.

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Countdown to WSI

Dyeing. . .

Drying. . .

Getting everything ready and in line. . . 

Arranging and rearranging. . .

Winding balls. . . 

Blocking. . .

I've been busy getting ready for my workshop on Knitting and Math at next week's Whole Schools Institute.  The countdown (and counting rows) has already begun as I've been finishing up several pieces for the workshop and begun casting on and knitting a few rows for 20 knitting kits (or sets of "training wheels" to learn the basic knit stitch).  I can't wait to meet the participants in my workshop, and I hope that some of them will decide to use knitting with their students and share their experiences in this space.