Some real-life interviews from retired geometry teacher Wendy Lichtman, above, author of several math-themed YA novels:
Few 15-year-olds care parallel lines are crossed by a transversal.
“But there are two parallel lines here,” she continues, pointing to the pink and orange quilt. “and those are transversals and they’re at a 90° angle and it feels real.” You have to make it look right.”
Teenage participants in the Oakland, Calif., program she founded to demystify geometry through hands-on quiltmaking make it look right by drawing their designs on graph paper, carefully measuring, and carving shapes of their choice from light calico. (Licthman vows to button up her lip if their favorite print isn’t to her taste.)
Lichtman came up with this creative approach to help a bright student who was in danger of not graduating because he failed geometry three times.
She details their journey in How to Make a Geometric Quilt, an essay formatted as step-by-step instructions… not for making quilts, but rather for how teachers can lead with humility and determination while maintaining good boundaries.
Some points of interest:
6. Sometimes after the sewing has started and the math workbook is ignored for weeks, you start to worry that your student isn’t actually learning geometry. He learns to sew and he learns to fix a broken bobbin, but really, geometry?
7. Remind yourself that this child needs a quilt as well as geometry.
8. Also remember the very, very old woman who taught you hat making a long time ago. She only went to school until the 5th gradeThursday degree because, she said, she was a black kid in the deep south and that’s the way it was back then. Think about how she explained to the hat-making class that to find the length of the brim of the hat you had to measure from the center to the brim with a string and then make “three of them and a little more” and remember how you sat in awe because three radii and a little more is the definition of pi, and apparently this hatter discovered the perimeter formula for herself.
As the two get to know each other better, the student catches her off guard and reveals more about her situation as they exchange stories of their mothers.
But it wasn’t easy A.
In addition to expecting regular and punctual attendance, Lictman stipulated that in order for a student to succeed, she could not give away the fruits of her labor.
(Super advice for the creator of any art project this ambitious. As Debbie Stoller, author says Stitch ‘n Bitch: The Knitter’s Guide advises:
…those who have never knitted anything have no idea how much time it took. When you give someone a sweater, they might think you made it the night you watched a half-hour sitcom. It’s only when people actually try to knit that they finally come to this realization, that light bulb goes on over their heads and they realize, “Wow, this actually takes some skill and a little bit of time. I have a newfound respect for my grandmother.”)
In the end, Lichtman concludes that the five credits she awarded her student cannot be reduced to something as simple as geometry or quilt making;
You are giving her credit for something less tangible. Something like pride. Five credit hours for feeling like he can do something hard that’s, well, a little geometry-related.
You can see samples of the current cohort’s work on Rock Paper Scissors Collective’s Instagram.
Once completed, these quilts will be donated to Bay Area foster parents and pediatric patients at a local children’s hospital.
Solar System Quilt: In 1876, a teacher creates a handmade quilt to use as a teaching aid in her astronomy class
17-year-old Adeline Harris created a quilt collecting 360 signatures of the most famous people of the 19th century: Lincoln, Dickens, Emerson and others (1863)
Bisa Butler’s beautiful quilted portraits of Frederick Douglass, Nina Simone, Jean-Michel Basquiat and more
Over Boing Boing
– Ayun Halliday is the chief primatologist East Village Incas zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and A creative, not famous, activity book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.