A few months ago, I came across this article through social media describing how a university program was teaching STEM concepts with fiber arts to help lessen math anxiety in students. My initial reaction was, "Well, of course they are. Seems so obvious!" But, then I look at my kids' homework and think, well, maybe not so obvious.
I reached out to Sarah Kuhn, who is featured in the article, to find out if we could have a conversation. During my preparation for the interview, I learned her work explores much more than the program at Lowell Textile Institute.
You can listen to episode 45 of the podcast to hear our full interview.
Two things stuck with me after our conversation.
First, I asked about taking it to simpler terms, such as basic algebra concepts used in design. "If I get 20 stitches per inch, how many stitches do I need for 10 inches," for example, is a good, basic algebraic equation. But, she said using manipulatives and objects for teaching younger kids is accepted. It's when we get to the older years that we're expected not to need them. How many times has a new idea made sense when you got to see, feel or touch it?
The study we discussed showed math anxiety was reduced when students got to hold a crocheted hyperbolic plane has me wondering. Is it the tactile or sensory input that is calming? Is it because it seems more real? Is it because it seems more useful or tangiable? Is it subconscious?
Second, as we wrapped up our chat, we talked about the lack of respect for fiber arts. It is seen as "women's work" and not respected as a real skill that can contribute to many other areas of thinking. That because it's a home craft, some believe it can't possibly be hard or require big thinking. Or, like a friend said when I got back from the Interweave Yarn Festival, "How cute." Sarah has a great blog post about this as well.
What can we do to bring fiber arts up? How can we gain more recognition and respect as in important art, brain skill, and math teacher? We'll keep working and discussing.