Always About Math – Eventually

So I picked up a little hobby. It started very innocently and turned into something I can’t put down. (Not surprising to anyone who knows me). It’s crochet.  I think David Butler was the inspiration with his beautifully created crocheted coral reef. Then I turned to scarves and hats and slippers. Four months later, I’m feverishly making animals. Their eyes are a little wonky and the limbs aren’t attached perfectly, but I’m creating things I didn’t think I could. 

What’s most interesting as I reflect on what I have made is the process by which I’ve learned this new skill. I started with a YouTube video. I did some chaining. A lot of pausing and rewinding later, I was on to the single crochet – the basic stitch. If this were a typical high school math class, I would be moved onto the double crochet instruction and led to then practice it. Then, once I had that mastered, I could then view the treble stitch, and if I checked enough boxes, I might encounter some enrichment like a crab stitch cluster stitches. But only if I got enough practice with those basic stitches first. 

Not surprisingly, this “instruction and practice” method was not how I progressed through my crochet creations. I learned to make them by…actually making them. I made a super terrible looking pig, but figured out my missteps and made another one that I’m more proud to show off. In the process, I learned how to do a popcorn stitch. I made a hat for my daughter that would have fit her 3 years ago, but used it to determine how to make one that fits perfectly. 

I understand the need for skill practice. I would consider my trial-and-error attempts at a wearable, usable crocheted item as practice while I’ve seen my craft improve. I often hear the “sports metaphor” used in this situation, that ample amounts of practice shooting, passing, and team building lead to better game performance. In math class, do we ever let the children play the actual game? Or is their only performance that which is on a written exam? Is that the only thing they are practicing for? More tests? But back to crochet…Had I taken the instruction/practice route, I’m sure I’d be better prepared for the crochet Olympics. But in the end, it would have been a whole lot less rewarding and fun.


  1. Thanks for sharing this Megan. It really spoke to me – as a math coach and teacher – but also as a person who is desperately trying to teach myself to learn how to play the guitar. I want to play one Tracy Chapman song because I love to sing it, but it is going to take me awhile to learn it. My fingers are pretty soft and squishy so I have to build my stamina, but playing and singing the song is what keeps my motivated – not all the isolated pieces of information I need to learn in order to do it.

  2. What has all seemed important to me is finding the balance between “drill and practice” and discovery and knowing with which to start. When I coached speech it was “let’s see what is in this piece of literature”, but that was long after the drill and practice of letters, sounds, words, sentences and punctuation.
    I very much enjoyed your analogy! Our passions often teach us what we do not expect to learn.

  3. Pingback: Playful Math Carnival #106 | Denise Gaskins' Let's Play Math

  4. That’s exactly how I’ve learned to play songs on the piano! I don’t pay much attention to reading sheet music or the correct finger placement. I work through a song my own way and get better at it over time. It’s sort of a “just go for it” method. I think teaching some math lessons that way could help kids build their independence and learn that making mistakes is how you figure things out for yourself.
    This post also reminded me of an article I read about a professor at UMass Lowell using knitting and crocheting to teach math to students who are underrepresented in STEM. It gives them an opportunity to look at math from a different, more artistic point of view.

  5. Does this mean you’ll have spectacular crocheted fractal beanies at TMC?

    Seriously though, thanks for the reminder Megan. In the times I’ve been learning new songs for guitar this year or just finding an interesting math problem to work on, I find it interesting how I seek out the skills I need after deciding to stick with something. The same could be said of the teaching challenges I’ve had this year.

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