“I use knit­ting to teach maths to my stu­dents”

Avid knit­ter, Sara Jensen, re­veals why knit­ting is such a use­ful tool in the class­room, not least when it comes to teach­ing the magic of num­bers!

Simply Knitting - - Knitters’ World -

Keep­ing hand­knit­ting alive in such a modern, tech­no­log­i­cally-ad­vanced world seems more im­por­tant than ever. Not only is knit­ting fun and use­ful, but there are many things it can be used for – for ex­am­ple, learn­ing maths! We talked to Sara Jensen, As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Math­e­mat­ics at Carthage Col­lege, Win­con­sin, USA, who uses knit­ting to teach her stu­dents – some­thing she calls, ‘The Math­e­mat­ics of Knit­ting’.

Sara started knit­ting at a young age, but stopped dur­ing her teens. “I started again in grad­u­ate school as a re­lief from do­ing math­e­mat­ics all day,” she tells us, and soon started see­ing math­e­mat­ics within her knit­ting. “When I would try a new skill or pat­tern I would try to work out why this par­tic­u­lar pat­tern would yield the re­sult I wanted. I be­gan to re­alise there was a lot more math­e­mat­ics in knit­ting than I ini­tially sus­pected.”

Sara de­cided to show her dis­cov­ery to her stu­dents, as a means of help­ing them to un­der­stand maths. “Carthage Col­lege o ers a unique ex­pe­ri­ence called J-term, where stu­dents take only one course all term. Pro­fes­sors are en­cour­aged to o er un­con­ven­tional classes dur­ing this time so I pro­posed The Math­e­mat­ics of Knit­ting.” So, what would a typ­i­cal ‘Math­e­mat­ics of Knit­ting’ task be? “One of my favourite projects from The Math­e­mat­ics of Knit­ting course was a lace­work head­band (www.rav­elry. com/pat­terns/li­brary/ar­row­head-lace-head­band),” Sara tells us. “We used the con­cept of lace­work to de­scribe math­e­mat­i­cal func­tions. A func­tion is just a process that trans­forms one set of things (an in­put) into an­other set of things (an out­put). In this way, the process of tak­ing the knit stitches on the left-hand nee­dle and trans­fer­ring them to the right-hand nee­dle is a func­tion – the left-hand stitches are the in­put, the right-hand stitches are the out­put, and how you knit them is the func­tion. I used the lace­work head­band to ask stu­dents to de­scribe ex­actly how the stitches on the left-hand nee­dle be­came the stitches on the right-hand nee­dle. This is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing with lace­work be­cause some­times two stitches ‘be­come’ one stitch (for ex­am­ple, with a k2­tog) and some­times a stitch comes from nowhere (with a yo).”

Sara learned the ba­sic stitches as a child, when her grand­mother taught her how to knit. Her favourite type of knit­ting is Fair Isle knit­ting. “When knit­ting Fair

Isle, I use the rule that no more than five con­sec­u­tive stitches can be the same colour. This, along with the fact that you must knit Fair Isle in the round, puts a limit on the di er­ent pat­terns that can oc­cur as Fair Isle pat­terns for a given row of knit­ting. This con­text of Fair Isle knit­ting gives stu­dents an in­tro­duc­tion to a math­e­mat­i­cal sub­spe­cial­ity called num­ber the­ory, and in par­tic­u­lar, can be used to in­tro­duce a spe­cial math­e­mat­i­cal func­tion called the par­ti­tion func­tion.”

Sara’s pas­sion for knit­ting re­ally shines through her unique teach­ing method, “What I love about knit­ting is the chal­lenge it o ers and the sense of ac­com­plish­ment you feel,” Sara ex­plains. “This is al­most ex­actly the same rea­son I love math­e­mat­ics.”

To find out more about Sara’s math­e­mat­i­cal teach­ing, visit www.sara­jensen.org and www.carthage.edu/live/pro­files/1174-sara-jensen-08

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