Monday, 10 October 2016

So maths can be fun?

Yesterday, someone I know, at least "virtually", put up a picture of "The curve of pursuit" afghan/blanket. It's one of those mathematical curiosities which has become even more of a curiosity since it has been knitted as well.
There is a rather remarkable couple - Pat Ashforth and Steve Plummer - who have done a great deal to promote the teaching of maths and knitting. As a knitter I can only approve. Their "Woolly Thoughts" website is worth some exploration. There are maths games and puzzles there - all knitted or crocheted. 
The Senior Cat has made timber versions of some of them - such as the "Soma cube", pentominoes, and the tangram. The ideas are not new, indeed some of them are very old. What was new was to try and make knitted or crocheted versions of them. Such things are soft and cuddly and surely must make maths seem more friendly?
But it seems to me that there is more than that to teaching a child to knit. Learning to knit is also about learning to manipulate, about learning how things (in this case stitches) relate and much more. The Senior Cat keeps telling me he is amazed how much maths goes into designing a piece of knitting. It's not all just basic addition or multiplication either. There is algebra and geometry involved too.
I have a good friend whose son is a professor of "algebraic topology" - something that has been described to her as "making a teacup shape out of a doughnut shape". She claims not to be sure what the use of the subject is but we once both agreed it would be interesting to see if we could knit the doughnut and turn it into a teacup. (Yes, the topic is very serious mathematics. I don't claim to understand it at all but it does have scientific applications.) When we were discussing this though my other thought was, "What if we taught a child to knit a  mathematical form and, because of that, they went on to be a mathematician?"
Good knitters are also mathematicians - and perhaps mathematicians also need to be knitters?

1 comment:

Melfina said...

Couldn't hurt. I actually spent a brief period of time yesterday trying to come up with an algebraic formula for a picot cast-on to see how many stitches I'd actually worked to get 415 cast on.

I remember playing with those colored blocks in the shapes of triangles, diamonds, squares, ect (no clue what they're called) and having a ton of fun making patterns. It wouldn't have been much of a stretch to sit me down and teach me to crochet/knit those shapes and how to stitch them together. (OK, I think I was about 6 at the time, and I remember several people trying to teach me to knit and I couldn't understand how the stitch jumped from one needle to the other so maybe starting with cutting fabric into those shapes and piecing might be better for some kids but you could have all 3 as options!) All that playing did come in handy later in geometry class too!