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Friday, October 7 • 9:00am - 10:30am
Re-Crafting Mathematics Education: Exploring Textile Crafts as Tangible Mathematical Manipulatives

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Craft communities can be powerful sites for production-centered, interest-driven, peer-supported learning, principles espoused by connected learning (Ito et al., 2013). Communities around textile crafts in particular, such as knitting circles or quilting bees, tend to be dominated by women, due to the long gendered histories of fiber-art production. These crafting practices are inherently mathematical, offering proof of the mathematical activities women choose to participate in across their lifespan. The Re-Crafting Mathematics project focuses on this unusual starting point to address the “STEM pipeline,” by investigating our own engagement in crafts, as well as the culture of crafting that attracts and maintains women’s participation. Understanding these practices can lead to crucial advancements in mathematics education, and elucidate an uncommon topic in the connected learning literature: interest-driven uses of mathematics.

Despite the lack of gender differences in girls’ and boys’ mathematics achievement (Hyde, Lindberg, Linn, Ellis & Williams, 2008), women continue to be underrepresented in STEM careers, comprising only 26 percent of the STEM workforce (US Census, 2011). Studies of females’ mathematical participation suggest that these discrepancies stem not from differences in ability between the genders, but rather from perceptions of mathematics and the extent to which women feel welcome in mathematics-intensive cultures (Alper, 1993; Boaler & Greeno, 2000; Boaler, 2002). School mathematics is frequently stripped of meaningful context; hands-on production restores this context, allowing students to embody mathematical ideas and develop a personal relationship with them.

Many tangible manipulatives, typically found in lower-level mathematics classrooms, consist of blocks and other objects that children build with to explore shape, volume, or quantity, including cuisenaire rods, tangrams, and unifix cubes. Notably, youth perceive these materials and practices (i.e., building) as masculine and, at best, gender-neutral (Peppler, Wohlwend, & Thompson, in preparation), leaving a gap in manipulatives rooted in feminine practices and materials. Moreover, these materials support early understanding of mathematics and are less able to support engagement in more advanced mathematics. In studying traditionally feminine textile crafts, we seek to address this twofold gap in tangible manipulatives by designing new manipulatives (1) with feminine-coded materials rooted in traditional women’s practices, and (2) with high utility in advanced mathematics.

The session will begin with an overview of ethnographies from the Recrafting project that focused on the key practices, materials, and activities in craft communities that connected to mathematical activity. We will then divide into four interactive crafting groups that will explore: 1) ideas of ratio and proportional reasoning through knitting; 2) the complex work of 2D-3D transformations through sewing; 3) symmetry and patterns through weaving; and 4) the geometry and invention of “shortcuts” that occur in the folding and layering of fabric manipulation. These groups will then reconvene and discuss connections between mathematical problem solving and design-based thinking that emerged through the creation of small projects. The session will highlight ways to engage students and educators in mathematical thinking through hands-on crafts, in order to eventually provide youth with new textile-based tangible manipulatives as “objects-to-think-with” in mathematics education.

avatar for Kate Chapman

Kate Chapman

PhD Student | Research Assistent, Vanderbilt University
avatar for Anna Keune

Anna Keune

Graduate Research Assistant, Indiana University
Hello! I am a graduate student at the student in the Learning Sciences program at Indiana University. Through my work at the Creativity Labs, I have had the fantastic opportunity to be part of the Maker Ed Open Portfolio project. Through my work on the project, I learned a lot about... Read More →
avatar for Kate Samson

Kate Samson

Researcher, Indiana University

Naomi Thompson

Graduate Research Assistant, Creativity Labs, Indiana University
avatar for Fai Wisittanawat

Fai Wisittanawat

Graduate student, Vanderbilt University
Hello! I am a doctoral student in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Vanderbilt University. I am interested in understanding disciplinary practices of mathematics and science and designing classroom environments that support students’ participation in those practices in... Read More →

Friday October 7, 2016 9:00am - 10:30am
Pacific Ballroom A

Attendees (14)