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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Quilter's Math

I've struggled with math all my life. Its abstract nature, rigid rules, and mysterious formulas were a foreign language. It wasn't until I began to quilt that I had an epiphany, of sorts. Math requires a logical mind; mine tended more to whimsy. But as I discovered the world of quilting, with its triangles, widths, seam allowances, arcs, congruence and symmetry, math took a gentler hand with me. There was a connection between my mind and my hands, and that connection clicked.

Math and quilting share a common attribute of incremental growth. Just as math builds concept upon concept, quilting does the same with fabric-taking little pieces and building an entire quilt. I discovered this on my own, how many others never do? How would our children's comprehension and facility with math improve, if they were taught this subject in a way that had meaning?

I've become an advocate of teaching in context- what the gurus today are calling "Real World Applications." Perhaps we would be less concerned with testing our children by means of paper and pencil, if we could see the actual demonstrated knowledge of their accomplishments in something of tangible, lasting value.

I remember watching a girl of ten, bent over her fabric, measuring with a ruler, carefully marking off 6 inch segments, connecting the lines, drawing a mark on the bias to create triangles. Her personal goal was her first nine patch quilt. Math was simply the means to that end. There was a natural harmony there. There is also a lesson. Perhaps we should strongly consider the benefits of going "back to the future." There is knowledge there, knowledge that we are overlooking today.

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